Fuel from the sky BWI investigation: Emergency release from jet tanks calls for immediate notification.

January 27, 1998

A CASCADE OF JET FUEL that fell on a Glen Burnie woman and her son has prompted Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest to ask for a congressional investigation into the practice. That's exactly what is needed to clear the air.

A week ago, a World Airways DC-10 released about 100 gallons of jet fuel over Glen Burnie as it approached the Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum. The cloud of mist doused Tracey Schulden and her 8-year-old son as they walked through the parking lot of Arthur Slade Regional Catholic School to a Cub Scout meeting.

The plane, a military charter destined for Germany, turned around after a short period in the air because a young passenger had choked on a piece of food and was unconscious.

In order to land, the plane had to dump about 13,000 gallons of jet fuel. The pilot received permission to dump the fuel over the Atlantic Ocean.

Most of the fuel was released high enough in the sky that it vaporized, but the valve of the fuel tank stayed open. When the plane lowered its flaps to land, the remaining fuel escaped from the tank and showered Glen Burnie.

The issue here is not the dumping of the fuel, but the need to notify the public when it does happen. Federal Aviation Administration rules carefully govern the dumping of fuel.

In most cases, fuel is dumped during emergency situations. Although there may be some contamination of the environment, it is preferable to the risks involved in having an aircraft make an emergency landing heavily laden with flammable liquid.

When these emergencies arise, the appropriate officials should disseminate the information as quickly as possible.

A great deal of unnecessary worry and concern would have been alleviated had BWI officials immediately issued a statement that a plane released fuel and what residents could do if they had been accidentally sprayed.

It would also help if airport officials have ready answers to questions about the possible danger from dumped fuel to roofs, cars and vegetation.

In future instances of fuel dumping, we hope the airport's response is more informative and more forthcoming.

Pub Date: 1/27/98

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