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Delta Airplane Dumps Jet Fuel on Los Angeles Schools

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A plane dumped jet fuel on three schools in and around Los Angeles on Tuesday, inflicting minor injuries on 42 people, including at least 17 children, the authorities said.

Shortly after Delta Flight 89 took off from Los Angeles International Airport, the plane’s pilot declared an emergency “related to a mechanical issue on board,” said Heath Montgomery, a spokesman for the airport. The plane, a Boeing 777-200, had taken off at 11:32 a.m. and was bound for Shanghai, but it returned to the tarmac 15 minutes after takeoff, Mr. Montgomery said, adding that no one on the flight was injured.

Firefighters responded to complaints from Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, Calif., and 93rd Street Elementary School and David Starr Jordan High School in Los Angeles.

Students and adults at the school in Cudahy, which is in southeast Los Angeles County, had complained of skin irritation and were decontaminated by emergency medical workers, said Sean Ferguson, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Fire Department. He said 17 children and nine adults were treated at the elementary school.

An additional 16 patients were identified at other schools. Patients at all three schools declined to be transported to a hospital. Videos from local news outlets showed parents hugging their children as they were released into their care.

The Federal Aviation Administration said planes were supposed to release fuel over “designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground.” The agency said it was investigating the dump.

Adrian Gee, a spokeswoman for Delta, said the flight had experienced an issue with its engine and had dumped the fuel “to reach a safe landing weight.”

Airline officials “share concerns regarding reported minor injuries to adults and children,” Ms. Gee said.

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Many jetliners, especially those used on long flights, carry so much fuel when fully loaded that they take off weighing more than their maximum safe landing weight. Ordinarily, they consume enough fuel along the way to be well below the maximum threshold by the time they land. However, if a flight is cut short soon after takeoff, the plane may still be significantly overweight.

In that situation, pilots have three choices. They can circle for a while to burn off fuel, but in an emergency there may not be time. They can land overweight, which risks damaging the aircraft. Or they can jettison fuel in flight, generally by spraying it out through nozzles on the plane’s wings, if the plane is equipped.

The jettisoned jet fuel, which is similar to kerosene, will vaporize as it falls through the air. Boeing, a leading aircraft manufacturer, estimates that if fuel is dumped at an altitude of 5,000 to 6,000 feet or higher, it should all have turned to vapor before reaching the ground. Federal regulations allow dumps at lower altitudes: Air traffic controllers are instructed to assign planes dumping fuel to an altitude at least 2,000 feet higher than anything on the ground within five miles.

Mr. Ferguson said that despite the frequent sight and sound of planes approaching the Los Angeles airport for landing, he could not recall another instance in which a plane dumped fuel on civilians in the last decade.



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