Singapore Airlines 777-300ER Wing Catches Fires — Passengers Don’t Evacuate.

A Boeing 777-300ER made an emergency landing today.  Why didn’t the crew and passengers evacuate?

A Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER made an emergency landing today due to a suspected engine problem. Upon landing, the right wing and engine became engulfed in flames. All 222 passengers and 19 crew were able to evacuate the aircraft safely. In a statement, Singapore Airlines said:

Flight SQ368, a Boeing 777-300ER operating from Singapore to Milan, returned to Singapore on 27 June following an engine oil warning message.
The aircraft’s right engine caught fire after the aircraft touched down at Changi Airport at around 6:50am. The fire was put out by airport emergency services and there were no injuries to the 222 passengers and 19 crew on board.
Passengers disembarked through stairs and were transported to the terminal building by bus. Passengers will be transferred to another aircraft which is expected to depart for Milan later today.
Singapore Airlines will be co-operating fully with the authorities in their investigations.

If you look at the Singapore Airlines statement, it shares the fact but doesn’t really tell the full story.  Videos and photos from the stricken plane show a much different story.  The Boeing 777-300ER was flying from Singapore to Milan. The plane had only reached Malaysian airspace when the crew decided to return to Singapore because of an engine issue.  The jet landed with some sort of fuel leak or engine problem–an oil warning according to Singapore Airlines.  That makes sense.  But looking at the photos and piecing together the online updates paints a much different story.

A landing back at Singapore’s Changi International means that flight SQ368 likely landed with significant fuel onboard the aircraft–enough for the anticipated 10+ hour journey to Milan. Upon landing, the entire right wing caught fire.   This is where things get really interesting.  According to news reports and a first hand video posted by a passenger, the crew directed everyone to remain in their seats. Passengers anxiously waited in their seats for five minutes while the right wing was engulfed as fire fighters attempted to put out the flames.  While there is always an inherit danger in evacuating an aircraft via slides, it is also extremely dangerous to remain inside a burning aircraft with around 100,000 lbs of fuel remaining in that wing alone.  That wing was an explosion waiting to happen.  SQ368 dodged a bullet.  After the fire was finally put out, air stairs were brought to the left side of the plane where passengers disembarked ‘normally’ and were bussed to the terminal.

While it is not the typical policy of to make news by questioning the decision of the crew, we must in this case.  There are only two possibilities of what happened.  One remote possibility is that the crew knew something that the passengers didn’t and were heroes by keeping the passengers on the plane.  Unfortunately, the videos now appearing on Facebook and Twitter seem to indicate the very real possibility that the crew hesitated on an evacuation and put over 200 lives at risk by collectively freezing as the plane burned.  Either way, many people were very lucky today.  We’ll let the investigation play out and report the facts as they develop.