LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Officials said 67 children and adults were treated Tuesday when fuel dumped by a Delta airliner making an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport fell onto several area schools.
Approximately 20 children and 11 adults at Park Avenue Elementary School reported a reaction after they were exposed to jet fuel that fell on a playground, according to Los Angeles County firefighters.
Several more students and adults at San Gabriel Avenue Elementary and Tweedy Elementary in South Gate, Jordan High and 93rd Street Elementary in South Los Angeles and Graham Elementary in Inglewood were also treated.
"It kind of smelled like gas," Eli Vasquez, a student at Tweedy, said.
Some patients complained of skin and eye irritation, but were treated with soap and water and were not taken to the hospital.
Los Angeles County firefighters later confirmed that the substance was, in fact, jet fuel and said that all injuries were minor, though that did not stop parents from worrying.
"The principal let us know, but honestly I'm just hearing from him what happened," Abby Rivera, Eli's mom, said. "I'm worried, just worried because that's something dangerous for the kids to be smelling."
She said she plans to take her son to the doctor just to be safe.
Twelve-year-old Diego Martinez said some of the jet fuel landed on his sweatshirt.
"They gave us some soap to like put on our arms to wash our head, our face and the back of our ears and our neck," he said.
Workers at an Orange County electroplating shop said they could see and smell tiny drops of jet fuel that was dumped on their cars.
Delta Air Lines addressed the issue in a statement that read:
"This morning, Delta Flight 89 from LAX to Shanghai reported a mechanical issue and returned safely to LAX. Delta has confirmed that the aircraft conducted an emergency fuel release while in flight. We are concerned about reports of impacts on the ground from the fuel release, and are in close communication with Delta and first responders as their investigators continue. We thank LA County Fire, the LA Fire Department and other responding agencies for their fast response and we are working to learn more."
According to CBS News, the pilots of the Boeing 777 received a notification of a possible compressor stall affecting its right engine shortly after takeoff. The pilots radioed air traffic control, declared an emergency, turned around and dumped its fuel. But some aviation experts were left questioning why the pilot chose to unload the tanks where he did.
"Number one, I understand this was a simple compressor stall in one of the engines," Capt. Ross Aimer, CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, said.
Aimer, a retired United Airlines pilot, said the pilot of the plane might have acted too quickly in dumping the plane's fuel.
"I don't blame the pilot for coming back, however, even if you shut that engine down, it's not a huge emergency," Aimer said. "He or she could have gone over the water, which we normally do at places like LAX, you've got the Pacific Ocean right there."
Aimer said pilots are supposed to be at least 8,000 to 10,000 feet above ground allowing the fuel to vaporize before reaching the ground. He also said modern aircraft have been designed to land overweight, making him further question the emergency fuel dump.
"Unless you're on fire, there's no such rush," he said. "Most pilots make a mistake in hurrying through an emergency. Whatever it was, they could have easily gone over the water."
The FAA Tuesday night issued a statement regarding the fuel dump that read, in part:
"There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major US airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground."
Health officials advise anyone who might have been hit by the jet fuel to take a shower, get rid of the clothing sprayed and to go to the doctor if symptoms persist.
No passengers aboard the plane were injured.
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