The Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport shut down on Friday after a FedEx cargo plane caught on fire while landing. No one was injured.
Officials said the airport reopened one runway at 7 p.m., but by then, flights were delayed one to two hours, and some flights were diverted to Palm Beach or Miami.
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Around 5:52 pm a Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue battalion chief saw the plane on fire on the north runway and radioed it in. Units met the plane, which was arriving from Memphis carrying 46,000 pieces of mail and 40,000 pounds of fuel.
“There was a running fire of jet fuel” trailing the plane, said Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue PIO Michael Jachles. “This could have been so much worse. No one was injured and the fire did not spread inside the cargo.”
Early but unconfirmed indications were that the landing gear collapsed as it touched down on the north runway. The plane’s left wing and underside caught fire, and crews continued spraying it with foam periodically for at least two hours.
Only two crew members, both pilots, were aboard the flight and both were “fine,” according to a statement from FedEx. “Our pilots are safe following an aircraft issue at the Fort Lauderdale airport,” FedEx said. “We are cooperating with authorities on the scene.”
The pilots escaped on a rope ladder out the right side of the plane.
Air traffic controllers at the Fort Lauderdale airport issued a ground stop, halting flights for about an hour. At 7 p.m., flights resumed departing from the south runway. However, the plane could not immediately be moved from the north runway pending the investigation by the NTSB, and that runway remained closed.
Elizabeth Sleiman, of Weston, rushed to the airport to pick up her parents. They would be visiting from Sydney, Australia for three months and meeting her youngest daughter, Harriet, 1, for the first time. That grandparent moment was delayed.
Their Virgin Air flight from Los Angeles was supposed to arrive at 5:55pm. Instead, according to Sleiman, it would be diverted into the Palm Beach airport.
“We are so excited about them meeting their new granddaughter, but we don’t even know when they will be landing,” she said after making an impromptu picnic for her two young daughters, Audrey and Harriet on the floor near baggage claim. “This has become a nightmare.”
Nearby, Angela Lewis paced back and forth in front of the Southwest Airlines counter. The commuter takes an evening flight weekly to Tampa on Fridays.
This Friday she arrived at 7 p.m. for a 8:20 pm flight to the sight of blaring lights and news that her flight was delayed at least an hour, perhaps more as the airport finally reopened. “I am very upset because I don’t want to get stuck at the airport,” she said. “I am trying to figure out if I should just drive back. I don’t want to end up staying at the airport.”
One of the airport’s major airlines, Southwest, reported six inbound diversions to Tampa, Fort Myers and West Palm Beach, while four other outbound flights were delayed, said Brian Parrish, a Southwest spokesman. The airline reported no cancellations.
“It’s always good when there aren’t any cancellations,” he said. “At least people are moving.”
Twenty-nine flights were diverted to other airports, said Greg Meyer, spokesman for the Broward County Aviation Department. Flights were delayed one to two hours, he said.
This was the second Florida-related plane fire on Friday evening. The first was with an American Airlines Miami-bound flight leaving from Chicago O’Hare Airport.