Last updated: 11:29 AM ET, Sun December 27 2015

Smoke Sighting on Spirit Plane at LaGuardia Causes Passenger Panic, Evacuation

Impacting Travel | Rich Thomaselli | December 27, 2015

Smoke Sighting on Spirit Plane at LaGuardia Causes Passenger Panic, Evacuation

Photo via Twitter/ZachStaggers

“It was as if you yelled ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater.”

Those were the words of one passenger Saturday after a scary moment at LaGuardia Airport in New York when a Spirit Airlines plane was forced to evacuate just before takeoff.

The passenger, Zach Staggers of Brooklyn, told CBS-TV in New York, that a near-riot ensued after electrical sparks and a steady plume of white smoke from the plane sent fire crews rushing to the tarmac near the gate area for Spirit Flight 197, scheduled to fly to Fort Lauderdale, just before 11 a.m.

“We boarded the plane, we were sitting at the gate and then all of a sudden there were huge plume(s) of white smoke coming outside the window. For a second, I was like ‘Oh my God, the gas is going to catch and the plane’s going to explode,' ” Staggers said. “It was as if you yelled ‘fire!’ in a crowded theater. Everybody got up really quick and there was a brief panic, people are running toward the doors. I saw a guy jumped over some chairs.”

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and all 228 passengers and seven crew evacuated the plane safely. With a plane full of passengers and fuel, it would have been catastrophic if Staggers’ fears that a spark could ignite the aircraft came true.

Spirit Airlines spokesman Stephen Schuler said the sparks came from an auxiliary generator which provides electricity to the plane when it’s on the ground. When the generator detected the sparks, it immediately shut itself off, he said.

Whatever concerns were at the moment dissipated later. After passengers got their bags back, they re-boarded the same plane about five hours later and took off for Fort Lauderdale.


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