Experts praise crew of plane that caught fire on Las Vegas runway

Pilot praised for handling of burning British... 01:52

LAS VEGAS -- Investigators are looking into what caused an engine on a British Airways jet to catch fire. It happened as the plane was taking off for London from Las Vegas on Tuesday night with 157 passengers and 13 crew members on board.

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British Airways plane caught fire at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 Bradley Hampton/Twitter

The pilots are being credited for avoiding disaster.

It took just seconds for flames and thick black smoke to take over the left side of the British Airways Boeing 777. One of the two engines caught fire.

Responding fire crews say it was feet away from a massive fuel tank.

"...we are evacuating on the runway, we have a fire. I repeat we are evacuating," the pilot can be heard saying on transmission.

"I opened up the cover of my window and just saw flames on the engine," one passenger recalled.

The plane hit 100 miles an hour on the runway. But pilots slammed on the brakes short of take off.

The tower called for help, and two minutes later, firefighters were on the scene. Passengers used inflatable slides to escapee.

Phil Lowe helped people get out.

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Passenger Phil Lowe helped people get out of the plane. CBS News

"People could see flames and people wanted to get off the plane, they were just terrified," he said. "It was bad. There was a lot of screaming. Shouting 'get off.' 'Move, move.' People started pushing. People pushing back."

27 people were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries.

Aviation experts, like Mark Rosenker the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, praised the pilot and his team for their textbook efforts in landing the plane safely.

"Clearly the pilots displayed tremendous professionalism," he said. "By making the decision to abort this takeoff many lives probably were saved."

Investigators still don't know exactly what caused the fire. But they say it should be a faster investigation by virtue of the fact they actually have an engine to be able to look at.

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    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent based in Los Angeles.