Kevin Delaney was one of 59 passengers who safely evacuated SkyWest flight 5869 from Aspen to Denver International Airport Sunday afternoon after the right engine caught fire.
Delaney and recordings of air traffic controllers and firefighting crews tell the story of getting that many people off a burning aircraft as quickly as possible.
All passengers and crew members made it off the plane within minutes of landing, according to recordings reviewed by 9Wants to Know.
“It was fairly tense because the people in the back of the plane had seen the fire and the people at the front of the plane, I don’t think fully understood what was going on,” Delaney said while describing the evacuation. “So while they were sort of filing out, they weren’t doing it with the sort of urgency that the people on the back of the plane would have hoped for."
The fire was extinguished within less than five minutes of landing and first responders had completed their headcount, affirming all passengers and crew members were safe within 10 minutes. During those 10 minutes, air traffic controllers were managing to keep other passengers on nearby planes safe too.
In the recording, one voice is clearly telling another airplane to “go-around.”
That command was directed to a Southwest Airlines flight that had been cleared to land directly behind the SkyWest plane from Aspen.
Instead, plane tracking software shows the Southwest aircraft making a tight loop to land on a different runway.
The first responders and air traffic controllers kept their voices steady and calm, much like Delaney described the flight crew. Other passengers, he said, may have been a little too calm. Delaney is the editor in chief of Quartz, an online news outlet, and he posted a blog describing his experience saying: “They (other passengers) had no information that should have given them confidence that the plane wasn’t going to explode and shower them with fiery metal if they stuck around. Protip: forego selfies.”
“I think the key is even if you don’t really know what’s going on, you should get out quickly and calmly and get away from the plane,” Delaney told 9Wants to Know.
The plane is still grounded and the cause of the fire is under federal investigation, a SkyWest spokesperson confirmed.