Dozens of schoolchildren and staff were left with non-threatening injuries after a Delta airplane dumped fuel over multiple California schools on Tuesday in an incident the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) says it is continuing to investigate. While fuel dumping can be a common emergency procedure for planes that need to land earlier than scheduled, the FAA tells Romper air traffic controllers were not alerted to the pilot's plan, nor was the fuel dumped at an optimal altitude.
An engine issue forced Delta Air Lines Flight 89, en route to Shanghai on Tuesday, to make a quick return to Los Angeles International Airport. But in order to ensure a safe landing, a Delta spokesperson tells Romper the pilot needed to release some of the plane's fuel "as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight." Unfortunately, that fuel dump occurred over six schools in Los Angeles County — five elementary schools and one high school, CNN reported — at a time when many students were outside for recess.
Dozens of children and adults were treated for minor injuries by responding members of the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), according to Vice President of the Los Angeles Unified School Board Jackie Goldberg. "Students and employees who were on the playground were sprayed by the fuel, or inhaled fumes," Goldberg said in a statement. "Some had to be treated for injuries, including breathing problems and skin irritation."
At least 60 patients were treated by LAFD and the Los Angeles County Fire Department for non-life threatening, minor injuries at six schools, according to a press release from LAFD. In a statement to Romper, a spokesperson for Delta says the airline has been in touch with LAFD and shares "concerns regarding reported minor injuries to adults and children at a school in the area." Additionally, Delta said it sent 13 cleaning crews to clean every outside surface that students might come into contact with at the impacted schools.
While fuel dumping is a normal emergency procedure, the FAA said it plans to thoroughly investigate the circumstances behind Tuesday's incident. Traditionally, however, these procedures call for an aircraft to dump their fuel over unpopulated areas while flying at higher altitudes so the fuel is atomized and dispersed before it hits the ground. "In this emergency situation, the fuel-dumping procedure did not occur at an optimal altitude that would have allowed the fuel to atomize properly," the FAA tells Romper.
The FAA also said that a review of Tuesday's air traffic control communications showed Delta Flight 89 did not alert air traffic control to their need to dump fuel. Had they, controllers would have directed the plan to an appropriate fuel-dumping area. "The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind this event," a spokesperson tells Romper.