Posted by: harrisonjones | May 29, 2011

MD-88 evacuation in ATL

Yesterday, a Delta Mad Dog 88 was evacuated after landing in Atlanta. As I’ve said before, one of my purposes in  blogging is to offer insight as to what goes on behind the scenes in airline flying in hopes that it will make reading my novels more entertaining and informative. The ill-fated flight (How’s that for a newspaper phrase) landed on  Runway 8 Left and exited onto a taxiway to the right before evacuating due to a brake fire on the right landing gear. Fortunately there is a fire station located at the roll-out end of 8L and they were on scene almost immediately to smother the landing gear in foam.

There are several things to note in the photo above. Notice that the 737 in the top of the picture has side-stepped  to Runway 8 Right and continued the approach and landing. Life goes on. The fire is on the right side of the airplane so the captain’s evacuation orders would have been to use the left side exits only. If you look closely you can see the slide at the 1-left door is deployed. Also the tail cone has been ejected. There is an emergency slide at that location, but it appears that the flight attendants elected not to deploy it, probably due to visible smoke. The  148 seat airplane only carried 43 passengers so the evacuation probably happened pretty fast. Of course there may have been wheelchair passengers on board to complicate matters. Those of you who have read Equal Time Point will remember that there is no official limit  on the number of handicapped passengers that can be carried on a given flight. There are three flight attendants on a MD-88 and if there are ten handicapped passengers…I guess it’s time to prioritize. By the way, the captain is not normally informed as to how many carry on passengers are aboard, but I usually asked the flight attendants before departure. Contingencies, contingencies, contingincies.

Once the evacuation begins, it’s the crewmember’s duty to gather the people a safe distance from the airplane.  Notice that some of the passengers above are hugging, some are taking photos with their phones, but most of them have brought their carry-on luggage with them. When it comes to your laptop or your life, you have to make a tough decision.

In the photo above you can see that the 2-left door slide was also used. Also, notice that the spoilers on top of the wings have been stowed and the flaps remain in the down position. This accommodates the passengers that go out the over wing exits and are instructed to go to the back of the wing and slide down the flaps. There is a walkway painted with non-skid material on top of the wing with arrows to follow. On larger jets, there are slides at the over wing exits that deploy off the front of the wing. The slides can be detached and are used as life rafts in the event of a ditching. And you thought the flight attendants just served peanuts and drinks? Notice all the foam on the concrete above. Yes, it’s very slippery. Y’all be careful. 

Let’s talk about hot brakes and blown tires for a minute. As we all know, when air gets hot it expands. You pilots  remember that from weather 101. Those of you who are not pilots will remember that in the winter time you start getting those pesky low tire pressure messages in your car. The point is, when you try to stop an airplane that weighs several hundred thousand pounds and is going 150 miles per hour, it takes a lot of brakes. The brake rotors create a lot of heat and it is transferred to the tires. The aircraft wheels are actually designed with fuse plugs and when the tire temperature and pressure gets to a design limit, the plug lets go and deflates the tire. The idea is that it’s better to deflate the tire on purpose than to have it explode and send shrapnel through the wings and engines. Not to mention that if it exploded in the wheel well after takeoff, it could wipe out all the hydraulics and whatever. Sometimes tires do blow on landing, but it’s more common for them to deflate a few minutes later due to heat buildup. If enough heat is generated, it will catch the rubber of the tires on fire and you get the black smoke in the first photo above. In addition to that the air conditioning system imports the smoke into the cabin and the prudent decision is to evacuate. We’ll save the discussion of auto-brakes and anti-skid systems for another day. Meanwhile, kudos to the crew for a successful evacuation and thanks to the fire-rescue guys for swift action as always.


  1. Interesting read Harrison. Always happy to have a fire extinguisher nearby when a fires breaks out. Just yesterday I had to use one to put out a fire under our old flatbed truck that someone was test driving. A power steering hose sprung a leak and fluid dripped onto the manifold and started a fire. No damage I dislike fire just the same.

    It’s fun to hear the ins and outs of the airport scene.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Jeanne. Sounds like you’re pretty handy with a fire bottle. Next time you go on a commercial flight, look for the placards on the overhead storage bins and the closets that identify the emergency equipment locations. You’ll see emblems for fire bottles, oxygen bottles, first aid kits, defibrillators, megaphones, spare life vest, flashlights, and personal breathing equipment. Stuff that you’re happy is there, but hope you never have to use. The flight attendants receive annual training on all the equipment plus a host of other subjects and drills. The training center includes a cabin mock-up with real doors and emergency slides that they actually deploy and slide down. There is also a huge pool where they inflate actual life rafts and practice with survival gear. Hope you and your family have a great holiday.

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