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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:

  • GLF4, Le Castellet France, 2012 (On 13 July 2012, a Gulfstream G-IV left the side of the runway at high speed during the landing roll at Le Castellet following a positioning flight after ineffective deceleration after the flight crew had forgotten to arm the ground spoilers. The Investigation found that pilot response to this situation had been followed by a loss of directional control, collision with obstructions and rapid onset of an intense fire. Contributory factors identified included poor procedural compliance by the pilots, their lack of training on a relevant new QRH procedure which Gulfstream had ineffectively communicated and ineffective FAA oversight of the operation.)
  • F50, vicinity Luxembourg, 2002 (On 6 November 2002, a Fokker 50 operated by Luxair, crashed on approach to Luxembourg Airport following loss of control attributed to intentional operation of power levers in the ground range, contrary to SOPs.)
  • B190, vicinity Bebi south eastern Nigeria, 2008 (On 15 March 2008, a Beech 1900D on a non-revenue positioning flight to a private airstrip in mountainous terrain flown by an inadequately-briefed crew without sufficient guidance or previous relevant experience impacted terrain under power whilst trying to locate the destination visually after failing to respond to a series of GPWS Alerts and a final PULL UP Warning. Whilst attributing the accident to the crew, the Investigation also found a range of contributory deficiencies in respect of the Operator, official charting and ATS provision and additional deficiencies in the conduct of the unsuccessful SAR activity after the aircraft became overdue.)
  • DC91 / B722, Detroit MI USA, 1990 (On 3 December 1990 a Douglas DC9-10 flight crew taxiing for departure at Detroit in thick fog got lost and ended up stopped to one side of an active runway where, shortly after reporting their position, their aircraft was hit by a departing Boeing 727-200 and destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire. The Investigation concluded that the DC9 crew had failed to communicate positional uncertainty quickly enough but that their difficulties had been compounded by deficiencies in both the standard of air traffic service and airport surface markings, signage and lighting undetected by safety regulator oversight.)
  • E190, en route, Bwabwata National Park Namibia, 2013 (On 29 November 2013, an Embraer 190 Captain intentionally initiated a high speed descent from the previously-established FL380 cruise altitude after the First Officer left the flight deck and thereafter prevented him from re-entering. The descent was maintained to ground impact with the AP engaged using a final selected altitude below ground level. The Investigation noted that the Captain had been through some “life experiences" capable of having an effect on his state of mind but in the absence of any other evidence was unable establish any motive for suicide.)

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