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Post Crash Fires

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Category: Fire Smoke and Fumes Fire Smoke and Fumes
Content source: SKYbrary About SKYbrary
Content control: SKYbrary About SKYbrary

POST IMPACT FIRE

Definition

Post Crash Fires are fires which occur after an aircraft has crash landed or has impacted obstacles or other aircraft during ground movement, runway incursion, or runway excursion.

Description

In the event of an impact with the ground or an obstacle, which results in structural damage to an aircraft, a fuel and/or oil fed fire can start if fuel comes into contact with ignition sources. Equally, if flammable material, being carried as dangerous goods on a Civil aircraft or as cargo by a military aircraft, is damaged or the containment compromised, it may ignite as a consequence of impact, contact with hot surfaces or, in the case of spillage of unstable chemicals, the atmosphere.

Fire can spread quickly to the fuselage and through the cabin generating heat, smoke, and toxic decomposition products. If the temperature of trapped smoke and gasses reaches the auto-ignition temperature, flashover will occur and an aircraft fuselage can be rapidly engulfed by flames.

Effects

Depending upon the severity of the crash, and any resulting fire, the effect on the aircraft can vary from minor damage to total hull loss. Similarly, the potential casualty consequence of a crash/fire event ranges from no injuries to the loss of life of all on board. Collateral damage and casualties are possible dependent upon the location of the crash.

For aircraft with a maximum certified take-off weight of 5700 kilograms or less, post-impact fire contributes significantly to injuries and fatalities in accidents that are otherwise potentially survivable.

Defences

  • Aircraft Design. Aircraft structures and fuel systems can be designed to minimise the quantity of fuel spillage
  • Fuel - Virtually all large passenger aircraft burn jet fuel and not AVGAS. The much higher flashpoint of jet fuel reduces the potential for a post crash fire.

Solutions

  • Preparation of the aircraft - where the crash landing is anticipated, for example if an off-field landing is necessary or the aircraft has a landing gear malfunction, then there are several things that can be done to reduce the probability and severity of a fire:
    • Dump Fuel - if time and aircraft design allow, dump to reduce the amount of fuel and improve the handling of the aircraft. For aircraft not fitted with Fuel Dump capability, the aircraft can loiter in the vicinity of the landing airfield to burn gas. Note that, in the case of an onboard fire, smoke, or fumes, any delay to landing the aircraft, inclusive of dumping fuel, should not be considered.
    • Isolate fuel systems - close crossfeed valves.
    • Cabin - Prepare the cabin for emergency landing.
    • Cargo - Jettison flammable cargo if possible and practical.
  • Aircraft Evacuation - Expeditious emergency evacuation of the aircraft will minimise the loss of life in the event of a post crash fire. Consequently, robust training of the cabin crew in evacuation procedures is essential.
  • Engine Shutdown & Aircraft Systems - To minimize the potential for injury during the evacuation, the flight deck crew will take all necessary actions to shut down and, using fire handles, condition levers, or fire push button (depending on aircraft type) isolate the aircraft engines. Depending upon the degree of damage to the aircraft, this may not always be possible.
  • Rescue and Fire Fighting Services - Rescue and Fire Fighting Services (RFFS) are instrumental in saving lives and minimizing the damage from a post crash fire. If the crash occurs within the airfield boundaries, the initial RFFS response units will be on site within a very short period of time; often less than a minute. Response to an off airfield crash may take considerably longer due to the time it may take to locate the crash and to the accessibility of crash site.

Contributing Factors

Large amounts of fuel can be carried by modern aircraft and an aircraft crash has the potential to rupture the fuel tanks. Should the spilling fuel be exposed to a spark or open flame a fire may occur. This is particularly true of fuels with low flashpoints such as AVGAS. While jet fuels have a higher flashpoint and are less susceptible to sparks, exposing them to operating engines or to hot engine components may raise the temperature of the fuel to its auto-ignition point and a fire will result.

Accidents and Incidents

A selection of incidents from the SKYbrary database related to Post Crash Fire:

  • SH36 / SH36, manoeuvring, Watertown WI USA, 2006 (On 5 February 2006, two Shorts SD-360-300 aircraft collided in mid air while in formation near Watertown, WI, USA; both aircraft suffered damage. One aircraft experienced loss of control and impacted terrain while the other made an emergency landing, overunning the runway, at a nearby airport.)
  • B772, San Francisco CA USA, 2013 (On 6 July 2013, an Asiana Boeing 777-200 descended below the visual glidepath on short finals at San Francisco after the pilots failed to notice that their actions had reduced thrust to idle. Upon late recognition that the aircraft was too low and slow, they were unable to recover before the aircraft hit the sea wall and the tail detached. Control was lost and the fuselage eventually hit the ground. A few occupants were ejected at impact but most managed to evacuate subsequently and before fire took hold. The Probable Cause of the accident was determined to be the mismanagement of the aircraft by the pilots.)
  • GLF6, Roswell NM USA, 2011 (On 2 April 2011, the crew of a Gulfstream G650 undertaking a pre-type certification experimental test flight take off with one engine intentionally inoperative were unable to recover controlled flight after a wing drop occurred during take off. The aeroplane impacted the ground without becoming properly airborne and was destroyed by a combination of the impact and a post crash fire with fatal injuries to all four occupants. The subsequent Investigation found that preparation for the flight had been inadequate and had failed to incorporate effective response to previous similar incidents where recovery had been successful.)
  • AT43, Lubbock TX USA, 2009 (On 27 January 2009, an ATR 42-300 being operated by Empire Airlines on a scheduled cargo flight from Fort Worth Alliance to Lubbock was making a night ILS approach in IMC to runway 17R at destination when it stalled and crashed short of the runway. The aircraft caught fire and was in any case effectively already destroyed by the impact. Both crew members were injured, one seriously.)
  • AT43, vicinity Pristina Kosovo, 1999 (On 12 November 1999, a French-registered ATR 42-300 being operated by Italian airline Si Fly on a passenger charter flight from Rome to Pristina was positioning for approach at destination in day IMC when it hit terrain and was destroyed, killing all 24 occupants. A post crash fire broke out near the fuel tanks after the impact.)

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