A close call underscores airline safety

The Emirates aircraft on fire at Dubai International Airport on August 3, 2016.
The Emirates aircraft on fire at Dubai International Airport on August 3, 2016.

Thanks to the heroic work of the pilots, crew and Dubai International Airport’s ground personnel, all 282 passengers and 18 crew members of Emirates Flight EK521 were able to safely evacuate the plane before it was consumed by fire. In the course of fighting the blaze on the airport’s tarmac, however, fireman Jassim Al Baloushi from Ras Al Khaimah lost his life. He has been hailed as a hero for his role in the response to a terrible situation. That heroism will be forever remembered.

It is unclear what caused this accident, but in coming days and weeks investigators from around the world will sift through the wreckage and determine the exact cause. What is clear is that because of the training and dedication of the crew, the experience of the pilots and the engineering of the aircraft, hundreds of lives were saved. The captain and the first officer of the flight, which was returning from Thiruvananthapuram, India, had more than 7,000 hours of flying experience each. The plane was delivered to Emirates in 2003 and was up to date on all its safely checks.

One of the world’s largest airlines, Emirates has had an impeccable safety record over its 30-year existence. This is due in no small measure to its commitment to safety, and to innovation in the aviation industry at large. Commercial flying remains one of the safest methods of transportation. Procedure upgrades, a result of regulators learning from past accidents, and constantly upgrading engineering, serve to ensure that past failures are not repeated.

Thanks to special fire-resistant material used inside the aircraft that does not produce toxic fumes, and seats that are reinforced to withstand extreme force, planes such as that used on Flight EK521 are able to absorb the effect of a crash without immediately breaking apart. More importantly in the case of the Emirates flight, the airplane was evacuated in a swift 90 seconds.

But no matter what the feats of design that improve aviation safety, human nature always plays an important and challenging role in accidents. Videos posted to social media from inside the plane show passengers trying to grab their carry-on items before evacuating, despite repeated calls from cabin crew to exit quickly. Panic does different things to different people, but one thing is absolutely certain: one’s life is more valuable than any carry-on item. That might be one of the lasting lessons of this accident.

Published: August 4, 2016 04:00 AM

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