Last updated: 01:04 PM ET, Sun September 13 2015

NTSB on British Airways Engine Fire: Key Part in Pieces, Casing Breached

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | September 13, 2015

NTSB on British Airways Engine Fire: Key Part in Pieces, Casing Breached

The National Transportation Safety Board has released an update of its investigation into the engine fire that occurred on a British Airways 777 at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport last week. Though a final report is still pending, this latest report focuses on the failure of the high pressure compressor spool, a key engine component and subsequent damage to the rest of the engine.

The NTSB said "Initial examination of the left engine revealed multiple breaches of the engine case in the area around the high pressure compressor,” and investigators found “several” spool parts around 7-8 inches in length on the runway.

Richard Westcott, BBC transport correspondent, explained in an analysis of the NTSB findings that the high pressure compressor spool, is a circular disc that rotates at very high speed.

The component is designed not to break, Westcott said, as the engine’s outer casing isn’t strong enough to contain the shrapnel. Critical wiring, fuel tanks and hydraulic systems are all at risk for damage if this part fails.

According to Westcott, some next steps for investigators will be “to find out how new the part was, when it was last checked, and whether it broke because something hit it, maybe a bird, or whether it was just faulty.”

Dr. Colin Brown from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers told Westcott that a bird strike can’t be ruled out, investigators will "most likely" discover the cause of the failure to be from a "fatigue crack."

Brown added that parts found on the runway would be scrutinized for signs of fatigue, and evidence for a foreign object entering the engine would be seen in marks on the front fan.

The “critical question,” Westcott said, is whether this was an isolated incident or a problem that could occur again in engines of the same type.

Beyond the component failure and casing breach the NTSB report also said, “the left engine and pylon, left fuselage structure and inboard left wing airplane were substantially damaged by the fire.”

Flight 2276 was about to take off from Las Vegas for a trip to London's Gatwick airport when the left General Electric GE90-85B engine of the Boeing 777-200 caught fire, the NTSB said.

The pilot, taking a slightly earlier retirement after the incident, is considered a hero in abruptly stopping takeoff and getting all 159 passengers and 13 crew members off with just 27 minor injuries — mostly evacuation slide abrasions.

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