A first-grade teacher feared that she and her students were being targeted by terrorists when a Delta pilot dumped jet fuel on their Los Angeles playground.
The teacher was among the nearly 60 people injured when Delta Flight 89 dumped the fuel over five schools in its flight path on Tuesday as the plane made an emergency landing at LAX Airport.
She is one of four teachers now suing Delta Air Lines for negligence and emotional distress after being exposed to the fuel.
The teacher, who didn’t want to be named, broke down at a press conference on Friday as she spoke of the moment the fuel starting raining down at Park Avenue Elementary School.
She described feeling a light drizzle and initially thought it was raining. When she caught the smell of fuel just seconds later, the teacher said she immediately feared the worst.
‘I was screaming ‘gas, gas’,’ she said. ‘I started yelling for my students to run back inside.
‘I thought it was a terrorist attack.’
Four teachers, pictured with their attorney Gloria Allred, are suing Delta Air Lines after a pilot dumped jet fuel on their Los Angeles playground on Tuesday
She said she had seen the prior news reports of escalating tensions with Iran and feared it was part of a retaliation attack.
‘I didn’t think this was isolated (on our school)… I thought it was happening everywhere,’ she said.
The teacher became emotional as she recalled her students crying and screaming in the aftermath.
Her colleague, a fifth-grade teacher, said she saw the plane fly at am ‘alarmingly low altitude’ overhead while out doing PE with her class.
In a matter of seconds, she felt what she described as ‘rain drops’ hitting her skin.
‘The fumes were overwhelming… and hit soon after we felt the drops,’ she said.
‘Initially we thought it was rain so looked up. I began to rush my students in doors. They started screaming and crying because their eyes and skin were burning.’
The teachers both said they couldn’t decontaminate themselves for several hours because they were too concerned on making sure the children had washed off the jet fuel.
‘We are very qualified teachers but we are not equipped to deal with this level of hazardous contamination,’ the fifth grade teacher said, adding that her clothes still smell like gas days later.
The first-grade teacher said she ended up at urgent care the day after the ordeal because of severe headaches and nausea.
‘I couldn’t smell anything other than gas. I couldn’t taste anything other than gas,’ she said.
The teachers are being represented by attorney Gloria Allred who filed the lawsuit on their behalf in Los Angeles on Friday.
Delta Air Lines has not yet commented.
Footage captured the moment the fuel sprayed out of the plane in two lines at low altitude
The teachers were among the 50 people injured, including children, when Delta Flight 89 released the fuel at a low altitude as the aircraft was coming into LAX Airport at around noon on Tuesday
Students and teachers at five different elementary schools in its flight path, which was east of the airport, were out in the playground when a vapor caused by the dumping of fuel started to fall on them.
The Los Angeles Unified School District said at the time that the teachers and students were sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes.
Authorities have said the fuel caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults but nobody was taken to the hospital.
The only decontamination required was soap and water, according to fire officials.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sky Cornell said all the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground. There were no evacuations as a result.
The Delta flight had only just taken off from LAX en route to Shangai when the pilot reported an engine problem and was forced to turn back.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the flight crew never informed controllers about the fuel dumping.
‘A review of yesterday’s air traffic control communications shows the Delta Flight 89 crew did not tell air traffic control that they needed to dump fuel,’ the FAA said.
‘In this emergency situation, the fuel-dumping procedure did not occur at an optimal altitude that would have allowed the fuel to atomize properly.’
Audio from the radio conversation has revealed the pilot initially said he didn’t need to dump fuel prior to the emergency landing.
‘Delta 89, heavy, we have engine compressor stalls on the right engine,’ the pilot reported to air traffic control, according to a recording of the radio conversation.
The Los Angeles Unified School District said at the time that the teachers and students were sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes
Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sky Cornell said all the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground
A stall, which can be caused by damage to a turbine, either from a malfunction or sometimes by a bird striking the engine, reduces the engine thrust.
The pilot was asked whether he wanted to keep the aircraft over the ocean to dump fuel but he declined.
‘We’re going to go ahead,’ the pilot or co-pilot responded. ‘We’ve got it back under control. … We’re not critical.’
‘OK, so you don’t need to hold or dump fuel or anything like that?’ the controller asked.
‘Ah, negative,’ was the response.
Before making emergency landings, planes often dump fuel to reduce their weight for safety reasons.
The FAA said that air crews will typically notify air traffic control of an emergency and indicate the need to dump fuel, with controllers then directing the crew to an appropriate fuel-dumping area.
The agency said it is continuing to investigate the circumstances behind the incident.
It is not yet clear when or why the pilot changed his mind about whether the plane could safely land weighing as much as it did.
Footage captured the moment the fuel sprayed out of the plane in two lines at low altitude.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the flight crew never informed controllers about the fuel dumping