Cabin crew take credit for jet-blaze escape

NEW YORK - Calm and well- trained flight attendants who evacuated the Trans World Airlines wide-bodied jet after it burst into flames just before takeoff were credited yesterday with saving the lives of many of the 291 on board, writes Leonard Doyle.

A bright orange glow was seen erupting from a fire in an engine or a ruptured fuel tank of the Lockheed L-1011 at 5.42pm on Thursday, and Captain William Kinkead, pilot of the San Francisco-bound plane, aborted takeoff at high speed. The plane came to rest after crashing through a runway barrier at JFK airport.

As flames and toxic smoke poured from the fuselage, flight attendants opened the emergency exits for passengers to walk to safety. Passengers interviewed after the crash said the evacuation had been orderly and without panic, although the fabric, seats and carpeting were bursting into flame and thick poisonous smoke was filling the aircraft. Fifty-five passengers were slightly injured.

The rear of the plane was destroyed in the blaze, though firefighters sprayed it with foam within three minutes of the alert. The billowing fire prevented escape from the plane's four rear exits, where a ball of flame melted the yellow evacuation chute and raced into the cabin as soon as a stewardess opened the rear exit. Passengers escaped from the front four exits.

The fact that the flight was using one of the longest runways in the US - 14,000ft long - also helped avoid a disaster. Witnesses said the plane had begun to lift off when the fire erupted.

(Photograph omitted)

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