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Safe landing after Air France plane engine catches fire mid-flight

Passengers on the flight from Paris to Perpignan reported ‘silent panic’ and flames ‘at least two metres high’ coming from under one of the wings

An Air France plane taking off with the landing gear visible

The Air France plane was forced to make a U-turn and land back at Orly just minutes after taking off, after an engine was affected by a technical issue that caused a fire Pic: cartoonfullhd / Shutterstock

An Air France plane whose engine caught fire mid-flight between Paris and Perpignan has landed successfully with all 48 passengers on board safe and sound – if a little shocked.

The plane was forced to make a U-turn a few minutes into its flight on Friday, January 21, after it took off at 20:45 from Paris Orly. The problem was later confirmed as a fire in the engine.

An Air France spokesperson said: “There was a technical problem, an engine surge [a problem with airflow inside the engine] on the right side. This kind of problem is quite rare, but it does happen.

“It was quite remarkable for the passengers, because [this problem] causes a big explosion and flames but it does not last long. Once the [air] pumping resumes, the flames disappear. Our teams are trained to deal with this type of situation.

“The safety of our passengers is an absolute imperative and this was respected."

He added, "There are two engines on a plane, which is done on purpose, so that when there is this type of problem, the second engine takes over. However, the issue requires the plane to land at the nearest airport."

Passenger Johann Reig told France3: “When we started to climb, the plane started shaking violently, and we heard the sound of firecrackers, and successive explosions. Then there were flames of at least 2 metres 50 centimetres high.”

Other passengers onboard reported a kind of “silent panic”. 

One said: “I just heard one scream, but strangely it was very quiet. You feel powerless, like you’re in a flying coffin.”

One passenger took a video out of the window, where flames were visible.

The plane turned back to Paris Orly, and the passengers disembarked just 30 minutes after takeoff. No one was injured, but some passengers were treated for shock by the waiting emergency services.

One said: “We spent a few moments in the air and then we landed again, and we didn’t have the impression [when we landed] that one of the motors was damaged.”

Air France then provided most of the 48 passengers with a hotel stay at a nearby airport hotel, before rebooking them on to another flight for Perpignan, where they arrived safe and sound the morning of Saturday, January 22.

Planes can fly and land without engines or fuel, as has happened during several breakdowns and test flights. In 2001, the infamously hair-raising case of Air Transat Flight 236 between Toronto and Lisbon, saw the plane run out of kerosene while flying above the Atlantic Ocean overnight.

The pilot Robert Piché and copilot Dirk de Jager managed to land the plane on a military runway in the Azores despite both engines having stopped, after a 19-minute, 120km glide. All 293 passengers and 13 crew members were saved.

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