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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:

  • F16 / C150, vicinity Berkeley County SC USA, 2015 (On 7 July 2015, a mid-air collision occurred between an F16 and a Cessna 150 in VMC at 1,600 feet QNH in Class E airspace north of Charleston SC after neither pilot detected the conflict until it was too late to take avoiding action. Both aircraft subsequently crashed and the F16 pilot ejected. The parallel civil and military investigations conducted noted the limitations of see-and-avoid and attributed the accident to the failure of the radar controller working the F16 to provide appropriate timely resolution of the impending conflict.)
  • 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.)
  • BE20, vicinity Stapleford UK, 2015 (On 3 October 2015, the pilot of a Beech Super King Air on a business flight lost control in IMC shortly after take-off and the aircraft subsequently impacted terrain at high speed. The Investigation concluded on the balance of probabilities that pilot medical incapacitation was likely to have occurred. It was noted that the aircraft had not been fitted with TAWS nor was it required to be but it was found that alerting from such a system would have increased the chances of the only passenger, another professional pilot, successfully taking over and three corresponding Safety Recommendations were made.)
  • C310, vicinity Wolf Point MT USA, 2000 (On 25 May 2000, a commercially operated Cessna 310R on a positioning flight encountered a flock of geese in VMC at about 600 feet agl after a daylight take off from Wolf Point MT and one of the geese impacted and broke through the windscreen causing the pilot to loose control and the aircraft to crash.)
  • B734, Kabul Afghanistan, 2016 (On 10 December 2016, a Boeing 737-400 main gear leg collapsed on landing after an approach at excessive speed was followed by a prolonged float prior to touchdown on the high-altitude Kabul runway. The Investigation found that the collapse had followed a severe but very brief wheel shimmy episode in the presence of a number of factors conducive to this risk which the aircraft operator’s pilots had not been trained to avoid. It was also found that although the aircraft operator regularly undertook wet lease contract flying, their pilot training policy did not include any route or aerodrome competency training.)

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