A Japan Airlines jetliner preparing to depart for Narita was grounded today after an object was drawn into one of the engines as the aircraft pushed back from the gate.
Who's to blame? That's the question FAA inspectors are hoping to answer at LAX.
But the more frightening one is: How catastrophic could the accident have been?
The feds are doing follow-up interviews at the Japan Airlines terminal after Monday's bizarre mishap on the tarmac near Runway 24 Left. Video from the scene shows a 200-pound metal luggage container firmly lodged in the front end of a JAL 747-400's jet engine. It somehow got sucked in while the plane -- Flight 61 to Narita Airport, Japan -- was preparing for takeoff with 249 passengers and 18 crew.
Japan Airlines says the container did not belong to JAL.
Paul Hedlund is a west L.A. litigation attorney who specializes in aviation cases. He says the investigation is likely focusing on one of three individuals -- either the pilot, the guy operating the luggage transport cart or whoever was towing the plane from its berth to the taxiway.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they're gone already, whoever caused this," he said.
Aviation experts say even at an idle, jet engines on a plane as massive as a 747 can be deadly. Pilots are taught to check and re-check the "cones of danger," imaginary areas in front of the engines where objects, debris -- even people, can be sucked in to the whirling fan blades, sometimes with catastrophic results.
Hedlund points out that, with a fuel capacity of nearly 60,000 gallons, the jetliner's engine is directly connected to fuel lines. He says if the luggage container had shredded, or even sent a small piece of metal sparking through the engine, there may very well have been a huge explosion.
"Fuel-air mixture and ignition source is all you need," he said. "(It would) take out that whole airplane. Real quick. Real quick."
Fortunately, no one was injured in the mishap and passengers were accommodated with other flights or overnighted in local hotels.