The 8:30 pm Air Berlin flight from Phuket to Abu Dhabi in the UAE caught fire after takeoff around 10 pm last night (December 20), with 249 passengers on board.
With flames pouring from the left engine of the Airbus A330-200 aircraft, the captain managed to circle and put the aircraft back down on the runway in Phuket at 9:30 pm, bursting three tyres in the process.
According to the Aviation Herald, passengers reported "repeated bangs and sparks flying off an engine".
An airport official told The Phuket News that the pilot, with just one engine, had to “slideslip” the plane frequently on the way down, an aerodynamic term to describe when the aircraft is moved sideways as well as forwards, to ensure it is able to land.
When the pilot landed the plane, three tyres, two on the left and one on the right, exploded.
Airport officials told The Phuket News said they were full of admiration for the pilot, saying he demonstrated “fabulous flying skills”.
After the plane landed, airport staff put the fire out and then had to change the wheels in order to move the plane. It took until 3 am this morning (December 21) to get it off the runway, and park it in a bay around the back of the freight area.
All 249 passengers aboard flight AB/BER7425 – said to be mostly Australians en route from Melbourne – are understood to have been evacuated safely.
An airport official, who was looking after the passengers, mostly German, said passengers on the flight were taken to nearby hotels for the night around midnight. A new plane would be arriving around 8 or 9pm tonight to take them to Abu Dhabi.
Most passengers were understanding of the situation, but some were annoyed they weren’t able to travel, she said.
All flights were severely delayed last night and early this morning but airport officials said at 9 am that the backlog has now been cleared and flights are back to normal.
Air Berlin is a major airline, in Germany second only to Lufthansa. It has a fleet of 135 aircraft.
Founded in 1978 as a charter airline, it has only one earlier recorded incident, in 2010, when one of its aircraft skidded off the runway at Nuremberg Airport during takeoff on a domestic flight, causing the airport to be closed for a few hours.