Attorneys at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman are honored to represent more than 40 adults and children affected by the appalling release of jet fuel over a populated area by Delta Flight 89. The Delta crew’s actions put citizens’ health and safety in jeopardy, with possible long-term consequences for those exposed directly or indirectly to the fuel.
We share the frustration felt by many people that improper testing and decontamination steps may have been taken following the incident, potentially putting citizens at risk of further exposure. It is vital that we hold those responsible for the fuel release and its aftermath accountable for their actions.
Our aviation litigation team has successfully represented more than 700 people affected by aircraft disasters, helping them recover millions of dollars. We have the extensive experience required to investigate, litigate, and resolve aircraft lawsuits of every kind.
Sixty People Receive Treatment After Jet Fuel Exposure
Students and adults at Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, California, required decontamination treatment after a Delta Air Lines plane dumped jet fuel onto their school on Tuesday, January 14, 2020. Delta Flight 89, a Boeing 777 jet, was on its way to Shanghai but returned to Los Angeles International Airport after experiencing an engine issue. The crew released the jet fuel to decrease the aircraft’s weight before landing.
Many of the victims were outside at Park Avenue Elementary when the jet fuel fell on them. Some said they saw the plane flying low over the school before feeling the jet fuel.
“We came out and we were playing, and the airplane was outside and we thought it was rain, but then we knew it was throwing gas on us, and everybody started to run,” 11-year-old Josue Burgos told the Los Angeles Times. He noted that the students could tell by the smell that it wasn’t water falling on them.
“You couldn’t breathe it was so bad,” said Francisco Javier, whose son attends Park Avenue.
Sixty people who were on the ground received treatment, including at least 20 children and 11 adults. Most were treated for eye and skin irritation. Some noted lung irritation and headaches.
The following schools were among sites where students or adults were exposed to the jet fuel:
- Park Avenue Elementary
- Tweedy Elementary
- San Gabriel Elementary
- Graham Elementary
- Jordan High School
- 93rd Street Elementary
Fuel Dumping Meant to Be Done Over Unpopulated Areas and from Higher Elevation
Pilots dump fuel in rare emergency situations or when they need the plane to be below a safe weight to land. Fuel dumping should occur over unpopulated areas such as over the ocean and from above 10,000 feet to reduce the risk of harm to people on the ground. When jet fuel is dumped from higher elevations it turns into a mist and atomizes.
At 11:47, an LAFD firefighter radioed that “a Boeing triple 7, call sign Delta 89, reporting a compressor stall, 181 souls on board, 12 hours of fuel, ETA less than five minutes.” Delta Flight 89 was only at around 2,300 feet when it flew over Park Avenue Elementary at 11:53 am.
“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport,” the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said in a statement. “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.”
Pilots also usually tell flight controllers if they need to dump fuel. Doing so allows controllers to guide pilots to an area where the jet fuel can be safely released. In this case, the pilot did not tell controllers about the maneuver. When the flight controller asked if the pilot needed to release jet fuel, the pilot said “negative.”
Pilots with planes that are overweight and need to land have three options: burn the fuel, release the fuel or land overweight. Overweight landings increase the risk of damaging the aircraft and require the airline to pull the plane from service so it can be inspected.
Could Victims Suffer Long-Term Effects from the Delta Fuel Dump?
Officials said the injuries at the time of the fuel dump were minor, with no patients transported to the hospital. There is still a very real risk that the effects of jet fuel exposure may not arise until well after the incident. Those who were outside and covered in jet fuel may require medical monitoring and could have issues that arise much later. Victims who are pregnant, young, or suffer from respiratory illnesses could be at an increased risk of serious health problems. Even people who were inside were exposed to fumes and could experience consequences or require monitoring.
Not a lot is known about the long-term health effects of jet fuel exposure. Research suggests such exposure can affect a person’s nervous system.
The FAA is investigating the fuel dump and the circumstances surrounding the pilot’s decision to release the fuel over a populated area from a low altitude.
Lawyers Fighting for Improved Aviation Safety
The Delta fuel dumping incident highlights the urgent need for stricter rules concerning the safety of people on the ground in addition to aircraft passengers. It is unacceptable to needlessly put people’s long-term health in jeopardy.
In this scenario, there are important questions that must be asked, including:
- Did the emergency landing actually require the release of jet fuel?
- Could the plane have landed safely without releasing the fuel?
- Why didn’t the flight crew take the plane over the ocean or other unpopulated areas to dump the fuel or fly to a higher altitude before the release?
- Why did the flight crew tell the control tower they did not need to dump fuel?
- What are the possible long-term effects of exposure to jet fuel from such a low altitude? What are the long-term effects on children, pregnant women, people with COPD, and those with asthma or other lung disorders?
The people on the ground had no warning that they were about to be doused with jet fuel. All they could do was react when they realized what had happened. By then the damage was done. Now, they must wait and hope that their exposure does not have consequences for them. Unfortunately, the health effects likely won’t be immediately obvious and may take a long time to develop.
“California law does not recognize a cause of action for medical monitoring,” says Timothy Loranger, aviation attorney, and partner at Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman. “It would be appropriate, however, if Delta stepped up to its moral responsibility by maintaining a fund for medical monitoring of anyone who was exposed and has reason to be concerned about the health effects. ”
If you or a family member was exposed to the Delta Flight 89 jet fuel, we encourage you to speak with one of our highly skilled aviation attorneys to discuss your options. Our team is available for a no-obligation consultation to answer your questions and advise you of your rights.