There was panic aboard a passenger jet in Chicago Thursday after a loud bang was heard and the plane caught fire during takeoff, sending a huge plume of smoke over O’Hare airport and forcing those aboard to exit using emergency slides.
About 20 people were sent to hospitals with minor injuries after American Airlines Flight 383, bound for Miami, experienced an engine-related mechanical issue, the airline and Chicago EMS District Chief Juan Hernandez said. The injuries were sustained exiting the aircraft, he said.
Gary Schiavone of Demott, Indiana, was 30 seconds into watching the safety video in the midsection of the plane when he saw a ball of flames shoot up from the right wing of the plane.
"It cracked the window on the right side of the plane," he told reporters near O'Hare's baggage claim. "It was a pretty big ball. First there was a clunk then a big explosion."
"When we got out of the plane, everything was on fire,” Schiavone said.
The Chicago Fire Department responded to a call of an airplane on fire at around 2:35 p.m. local time (3:35 p.m. ET). The fully-loaded Boeing 767 was filled with 46,000 pounds of fuel.
"This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later or farther out," said Chicago Fire Department Deputy Fire Commissioner Timothy Sampey. "The tower did a great job communicating with the pilot, and they got everyone off the plane immediately. Everyone was off the plane by the time the fire truck got there."
The 161 passengers, nine members of the flight crew and one dog were deplaned via chutes. Buses were immediately dispatched to pick them up.
"Twenty seconds later we would have been up in the air and we would have been done," Schiavone said, directing praise to the flight attendants who directed passengers and the pilot's quick action to bring the plane to a safe stop.
Passengers were offered the opportunity to take another flight to Miami Friday evening or at a later convenience.
Jose Castillo, a business owner from Miami, was sitting in the front row of the first class section of the flight when he heard an explosion as the plane was about to take off.
"The plane veered and everyone started screaming," he told NBC News in a phone interview. "The captain started slowing down the plane. We were all just trying to get out of the plane as quickly as possible. They opened the doors and we exited via the emergency slide.”
"Thank God nothing serious happened," he said. "It was very scary and everyone was shaking."
The Federal Aviation Administration initially said a tire blew, but the airline later said in a statement it was an incident involving an engine.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will investigate the incident, and described it as involving a tire blowout and fire.
This incident was expected to create delays on a busy day for the airport, as Chicago is expected to host an incredible number of visitors today for a historic World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians.
Chicago Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans assuaged worries. Though only four of eight runways were open, that was all they needed to maintain normal operations.
Friday’s World Series game is the first to be played at the Cubs' Wrigley Field since 1948.