Delta Air Lines

Teachers File Lawsuit and AQMD Issues Violation After Fuel Rains Down From Delta Plane

Droplets of fuel rained down over a large area, causing complaints of skin irritation and respiratory issues at the affected schools

Delta Air Lines Flight 89 to Shanghai, China, dumps fuel over Los Angeles before returning to Los Angeles International Airport for an emergency landing, Jan. 14, 2020. Fire officials say fuel dumped by the aircraft 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, California.
Matt Hartman/AP

Southland air-quality regulators Friday issued a violation notice to Delta Air Lines Friday stemming from the dumping of roughly 15,000 gallons of fuel from an airliner prior to making an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

One teacher thought rain was coming down until she smelled the fuel. She said she started rounding up students, who were screaming and crying that their eyes burned. Kim Baldonado reports for the NBC4 News at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17, 2020.

According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the notice of violation accused Delta of causing a "public nuisance'' with the fuel dump, which prompted hazardous-materials responses to multiple schools in Cudahy, South Gate and South Los Angeles.

No serious injuries were reported and nobody was hospitalized.

The fuel was dumped from Delta flight 89, which took off from LAX around 11:15 a.m. Tuesday bound for Shanghai and had to return to the airport after developing an engine problem. Before landing, the pilots flew in a wide circle over the Southland, and despite initially telling air-traffic controllers they did not need to dump any fuel, they did so anyway. Droplets of fuel rained down over a large area, causing complaints of skin irritation and respiratory issues at the affected schools.

Delta officials could not be reached late Friday for comment on the AQMD action.

AQMD officials said the formal notice of violation "can result in civil penalties.''


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"In some cases, the company can choose to implement voluntary measures to reduce emissions or otherwise prevent further violations,'' according to the agency. "If no settlement is reached, a civil lawsuit may ultimately be filed in superior court.''

Also Friday, four teachers backed by attorney Gloria Allred filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines, alleging its pilot was negligent when thousands of pounds of fuel per second were dumped over a populated area as he returned to LAX for an emergency landing. 

Some of the teachers cried as they spoke Friday at a news conference, detailing the moment the fuel rained down.

One said she thought it was a terrorist attack, while another teacher said the noxious liquid began burning her students' eyes, mouths and skin as they panicked.

An investigation is underway to determine if the pilot’s decision to dump fuel at such a low altitude was justified. It’s a decision the teachers claim has caused physical and emotional distress. 

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