- Flight CX880 to Los Angeles was carrying 17 crew and 293 passengers, with 11 hurt while being evacuated from Boeing 777
- ‘Due to the hard braking of the aircraft, 12 wheels were damaged,’ source says
By Natalie Wong, William Yiu and Clifford Lo
A Cathay Pacific Airways flight narrowly averted disaster at Hong Kong International Airport when the brakes were applied as the aircraft hurtled down the runway for take-off, with a dozen wheels damaged and flames licking the tyres, the Post has learned.
The rare incident, prompted by issues with a device indicating wind speed and direction, resulted in 11 passengers sustaining injuries while being evacuated from the plane which was carrying more than 300 people, with two suffering bone fractures and remaining in hospital as of Saturday evening.
According to a source familiar with the results of a preliminary investigation, cockpit crew first found problems with the device when the aircraft was taxiing on the runway for take-off early on Saturday.
Flight CX880, from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, which was carrying 17 crew and 293 passengers, aborted its take-off and the brakes were applied to stop the plane.
“Due to the hard braking of the aircraft, 12 wheels were damaged, and the cockpit CCTV showed some flames on the wheels,” the source said.
The aircraft, a Boeing 777-300ER, was racing down the south runway at 154 knots (285km/h) preparing to take off when the emergency brakes were applied, and it returned back to its gate, according to flight data provided by Flightradar24.
Police said one man and 10 women, aged 29 to 77, were injured while exiting the plane using an emergency slide.
Two injured female passengers, aged 54 and 77, suffered leg fractures and remained in Princess Margaret Hospital.
The other nine injured, aged between 29 and 63, were treated at North Lantau Hospital and discharged.
An Airport Authority spokeswoman said it had received a report at 12.20am on Saturday that the flight had aborted its take-off because of a “signal anomaly”.
Local actress Selena Lee Sze-wa, 42, who was on board, recounted the moment when the aircraft hit its brakes at high speed.
“Everyone was so frightened. When the captain and flight attendants told us to evacuate, everyone was nervous, screaming, and things became chaotic,” Lee said in a video she uploaded to Instagram.
“It also made me shake and I was so scared. Slides were coming out, everyone had to slide down and most people got scratched.”
The video shows passengers on board rushing to grab their luggage after being told to evacuate.
Pictures circulating online show dozens of passengers waiting by the plane in the open air after exiting via the emergency slide.
Emergency services, including ambulances and fire engines, were sent to the scene.
One photo circulating online appears to show three of the aircraft’s tyres burst. But neither Cathay nor police confirmed the number of tyres affected or the accident’s cause.
In a statement, the airline said it had performed “an aborted take-off in accordance with standard procedures after a technical issue was detected by the crew”, but did not elaborate further.
Crew initiated a precautionary evacuation after the aircraft returned to the gate, with passengers exiting using six escape slides, the city’s flag carrier said.
It added Cathay staff were at the hospitals to offer the necessary help to passengers receiving treatment, and the carrier would continue to provide support.
“We sincerely apologise for the disruption to our customers’ journeys,” the airline said. “We will cooperate with the authorities on the investigation.”
Ng Kam-hung, assistant professor from the department of aeronautical and aviation engineering of Polytechnic University, said tyre failure was “extremely rare” on aircraft. Regular check-ups and replacements were required for all tyres and, normally, they would not burst before being changed, he said.
Explaining the images circulating online, Ng said abnormally high temperatures in the tyres could cause them to burst, as a fuse plug would release air before they exploded.
But further information was needed to explain what triggered the high temperatures, he said.
Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung expressed concerns over the incident and sent his regards to the passengers, adding the Civil Aviation Department would follow up on the incident.
According to Lam, the department has set strict requirements for all local airlines to ensure they complied with the standards and recommended practices laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization on flight safety and airworthiness.
The Accident Investigation Authority, which operates under his bureau, would also follow up to improve aircraft passenger safety and accident prevention, he added.
Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Company Limited, which provides aircraft maintenance services, said it “was not able to comment on incidents involving customer airlines”.
Cathay said it had arranged hotel accommodation for the affected passengers, while another aircraft was deployed to fly to Los Angeles and departed at 10.12am on Saturday.
Tyre failure in aircraft is not common but has occurred in the past.
In January 2018, a Cathay flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong was also found to have tyre failure on the way and the flight eventually landed safely. In April 2012, a Cathay flight from Toronto to Hong Kong also suffered tyre failure during landing but all passengers and crew were unharmed.
Other airlines also encountered similar incidents with passengers safely leaving the aircraft. In August 2012, two tyres burst on a Hong Kong Airlines flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong when it landed. In May 2012, a Dragonair flight from Beijing to Hong Kong was found to have tyre failure before it landed.