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Don’t be these people. Panicking passengers evacuating a Spirit Airlines flight are seen ignoring instructions from flight crews during what appeared to be a fairly minor (if alarming) emergency. Some of the passengers evacuating after an engine fire took time to get their belongings from overhead bins, refused to remain seated and tried to give commands to trained flight crews.

WATCH: Passengers Delay Evacuation to Collect Personal Items From Overhead Bins

Oct 5, 2021

Passengers on a Spirit Airlines flight leaving Atlantic City in New Jersey were evacuated after a sudden engine fire broke out seconds before the plane was to lift off the runway. No injuries were reported, and all 109 passengers and crew were evacuated, although with disturbing safety failures.

The incident happened Saturday as Spirit flight 3044 was preparing to leave for Fort Lauderdale, Fl. According to the airline, “what is believed to be a large bird” was sucked into the engine just as the plane was about to leave the ground, forcing pilots to abort the takeoff. Cellphone video of the scare has gone viral. 

“The captain braked safely, received an indication of damage to the engine, and ordered an evacuation in accordance with our standard procedures,” read a statement from a Spirit spokesperson. “All Guests and Team Members evacuated the aircraft and were bussed back to the terminal.” The passengers were given full refunds for the flight, which was canceled, and vouchers for future flights. 

The FAA is currently investigating the incident. 

Safety Advocates with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers who reviewed passenger videos of the evacuation found several disturbing failures took place. Chief among them were passengers who slowed the evacuation of the flaming aircraft to collect belongings from the overhead bins – thus trapping everyone on the plane behind them. 

Pilots could not return the plane to the gate until firefighters had extinguished the engine. This forced the flight crew to evacuate passengers on the tarmac using inflatable slides deployed from either side of the aircraft. In the video, flight attendants can be heard clearly and repeatedly calling for passengers to remain seated, only to be ignored almost entirely. However, according to IAMAW District Safety Director Erik Stenberg, what many passengers did next was potentially much worse. Some passengers actively delayed the evacuation to collect their luggage and personal belongings from the overhead bins. 

“We work with Flight Training and Emergency Procedures Instructors regularly,” said Stenberg. “Crews and instructors practice using these slides. Some people have suffered broken bones going down these slides with nothing at all in their hands,” he said. “And, these were not even real emergencies. These were simulations where everyone was thinking clearly and were calmly following standard operating procedures.” 

“So, even if you get your luggage, you can’t safely get down those slides with it.” 

This behavior slowed down the evacuation, Stenberg said. “The fire itself wasn’t much of a risk by that point,” he said. “Fire crews were already activated, and the flight was on the ground.” According to Stenberg, who has been involved in union-side safety programs for decades, the real risk to passengers came from other passengers ignoring flight crew instructions. In fact, notes Stenberg, “it looked like some people were panicking and trying to take control over the evacuations themselves and away from trained flight crews. They were trying to give the flight attendants commands instead of following instructions.” 

While he noted that flight attendants could have gained more control of the situation, Stenberg said that the incident offered many lessons for passengers. Principally, the importance of carefully listening to (and following) pre-flight safety instructions. “I know we all like to ignore the flight attendants when they tell us what we should be doing in an emergency,” he says. “But, we should pay more attention. This incident is a perfect example of what happens if we’re unprepared.”

“The time to react to an emergency is before it happens,” Stenberg said.


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