California teachers sue after jetliner dumps fuel on schools

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Aircraft Fuel Dump

Attorney Gloria Allred, lower left, listens as one of four Park Avenue Elementary School teachers talks about her experiences when a Delta Airlines jet dumped fuel over their school Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, at a Los Angeles news conference Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Delta – Lisette Barajas, Laura Guzman, Mariana De La Torre and Anabel Samperio – appeared at the news conference but declined to be identified individually when they spoke. The teachers plan to file a lawsuit after a commercial airliner with engine trouble dumped jet fuel over a densely populated area. (AP Photo/Stefanie Dazio)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four teachers from a Los Angeles-area school sued Delta Air Lines on Friday, saying they were exposed to jet fuel when a plane with engine trouble dumped its fuel over a densely populated area, including several schools, while making an emergency return to the airport.

At a news conference, the teachers described the fuel as drizzling down like raindrops with “overwhelming” fumes. They said their panicked students screamed and cried.

An unidentified girl covers her mouth as she evacuates the Park Avenue Elementary school in Cudahy, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Fire officials say fuel apparently dumped by the aircraft returning to LAX fell onto an elementary school playground. A fire department tweet says firefighters are assessing “multiple patients” at the school in the suburban city of Cudahy, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

“The plaintiffs could feel the fuel on their clothes, their flesh, their eyes, and their skin,” said the teachers’ attorney, Gloria Allred, who noted that her firm may add teachers or students to the lawsuit.

“Fuel penetrated their mouths and noses as well, producing a lasting and severe irritation, and a lasting and a noxious taste and smell,” Allred said.

Officials have said nearly 60 schoolchildren and teachers were exposed to the smelly vapor Tuesday and were examined for minor skin and lung irritations and told to wash with soap and water. No one was taken to a hospital.

The teachers said they sought medical treatment after the incident and suffered physical and emotional pain.

The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the four teachers at Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy seeks unspecified damages.

In this image from video, Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, China dumps fuel over Los Angeles before returning to Los Angeles International Airport for an emergency landing Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. Fire officials say fuel apparently dumped by the aircraft returning to LAX fell onto an elementary school playground. A fire department tweet says firefighters are assessing “multiple patients” at the school in the suburban city of Cudahy, Calif. The flight tracking website FlightAware shows that Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, China, departed LAX, circled back over Southern California and returned to the airport. (AP Photo/Matt Hartman)

The plaintiffs, Lisette Barajas, Laura Guzman, Mariana De La Torre, and Anabel Samperio, appeared at the news conference with their attorney but declined to be identified individually when they spoke.

Delta declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Also on Friday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District — the governmental agency that monitors air pollution for parts of Southern California —issued a violation to Delta for the fuel dump.

The agency alleges that the fuel created a public nuisance. Violations can result in civil penalties or lawsuits.

The airline previously said Flight 89 to Shanghai had an engine problem after takeoff and needed to quickly return to Los Angeles International Airport. The Boeing 777-200 landed safely after circling back over Los Angeles while dumping 15,000 gallons of fuel to reach a safe landing weight.

The weight of a full load of fuel carries a risk of damaging ta jetliner during landing — which can be expensive for an airline to fix. Even if there isn’t damage, airlines try to avoid overweight landings because they are required to inspect planes, which puts them out of service.

Not much is known about the health effects of exposure to kerosene-type jet fuel, according to the federal Health and Human Services Department. Studies using military personnel suggest it can affect the nervous system, but that research involved people who work around jet fuel all the time. Rats that were fed kerosene showed no increase in tumors, the agency said in a 2017 summary.

The flight crew radioed that the jet needed to return due to a compressor stall, a potentially serious problem. The pilot or co-pilot initially said a fuel dump was not needed but the aircraft later did begin releasing streams of fuel from its wings.

The airline said it immediately began investigating, but no detailed information about the situation facing the pilots has been released.

The Federal Aviation Administration is also investigating the fuel dump, citing procedures that “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.”

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