Emergency evacuation at Stansted airport slowed by passengers taking cabin baggage

Exclusive: Pressure is growing to lock overhead bins during take-off and landing

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 06 August 2020 12:34 BST
Flying high: an Airbus A320 belonging to Laudamotion, part of the Ryanair Group
Flying high: an Airbus A320 belonging to Laudamotion, part of the Ryanair Group

Passengers who insisted on taking their cabin baggage during an emergency evacuation at Stansted airport hindered the escape, an official accident investigation has concluded.

A Laudamotion flight to Vienna was accelerating along the runway when the left engine suffered a contained failure. During the subsequent evacuation, 10 passengers were hurt.

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has urged “research to determine how to prevent passengers from obstructing aircraft evacuations by retrieving carry-on baggage”.

The report recommends that the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (Easa) build in “a more realistic simulation of passenger behaviour in regard to carry-on baggage in the test criteria and procedures for the emergency demonstration”.

On the evening of 1 March 2019, a Laudamotion Airbus A320 with 169 passengers and seven crew, was departing from Stansted airport in Essex to Vienna, the airline’s base.

As the jet began its take-off roll, the pilots heard a loud bang, which turned out to be a contained failure of the left engine.

They stopped the aircraft on the runway as the fire service attended. When it became clear there was no fire danger, the pilots prepared to taxi the aircraft off the runway.

But due to a mix-up, the senior member of cabin crew ordered an emergency evacuation.

The report says evacuation was “not necessary in the circumstances” but was “probably the result of a combination of factors that heightened her emotional response to the event and affected her decision making”.

The evacuation command was potentially dangerous, the report says: “As a result of the flight crew not being consulted before the evacuation was commenced, the right engine remained running for the first few minutes of the evacuation.

“This led to an increased risk of serious injury to those passengers that evacuated on the right side of the aircraft.

“Indeed, several passengers sustained minor injuries having been blown over by the exhaust.”

“Passengers crossing behind the engine exhaust could have been exposed to ‘wind’ speeds of 65 mph or greater, even with the engines running at idle.”

What concerned the investigators most, though, was behaviour during the evacuation.

Safety briefings are supposed to emphasise the importance of leaving hand baggage behind in an evacuation.

But the report says: “One passenger thought that about half of the passengers took their hand baggage with them.

“While some were removed by the flight attendants at the supervised exits, this was not possible at the overwing exits."

Bad practice: an infra-red photograph of the evacuation scene at Stansted airport in which passengers took cabin baggage off the plane

In a report two years ago, the Royal Aeronautical Society said: “This trend appears to be increasing and can only be exacerbated by the increasing volume of cabin baggage being permitted by some operators for commercial reasons.

“Aviation authorities should consider the feasibility of introducing a certification requirement for a means of remotely locking, from the flight deck, overhead bins in passenger cabins that do not contain emergency equipment, for taxi, take-off and landing.”

But some safety experts fear that locking the bins could delay evacuation as passengers struggled to retrieve their belongings.

Laudamotion was created by the former racing driver, Niki Lauda, but is now part of the Ryanair Group.

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