The pilot aborted take-off after what he later described as a “catastrophic engine failure”. All 157 passengers and 13 crew on the London Gatwick-bound flight were evacuated from the Boeing 777 as around 50 firefighters moved in to extinguish the blaze.
Fourteen people were taken from McCarran International Airport to Sunrise hospital for treatment for minor injuries including cuts and bruises – mainly suffered as they slid down the inflatable chutes to escape from the plane, which was quickly engulfed in flames and smoke.
US Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said the aircraft’s left-hand engine – manufactured by General Electric – had caught fire before take-off.
Passenger Gemma Cushion, 32, who was returning to Norwich, England, after spending a few days away with her partner to celebrate his birthday, said on Facebook that the pilot had had no choice but to abort take-off.
“As soon as we went to leave the ground there was an almighty bang followed by a quick stop and the smell of burning,” she wrote. “The fire brigade were on the scene and putting it out before I had even left the plane. Well done to the BA crew and emergency services for getting us off that flight safely. It was a little scary but it has not spoilt a brilliant holiday.
“Despite the minor hiccup of our plane catching fire the additional night here has resulted in me finally winning some money in the casino!”
Guardian reporter Jacob Steinberg, who was also on the flight, wrote on Twitter: “Was asleep as the plane took off. Came to a crashing halt. Smell of smoke. Initially told to stay seated, then shout of ‘evacuate’.
“They opened the back door and slide went down and smoke started coming in plane, followed by mad dash to front. A lot of panic.”
Steinberg reported that the pilot had been met with applause when he came to talk to the evacuated passengers in the airport building, and that he had told them the fire was caused by a “catastrophic failure of the engine”.
An airport spokesman told reporters: “All passengers were evacuated quickly and safely and taken by bus to the terminal. We cannot express enough gratitude to the emergency response crews, as well as the British Airways crew.”
British Airways said the plane had experienced a “technical issue” as it prepared for take-off. It added: “Our crew evacuated the aircraft safely and the fire was quickly extinguished by the emergency services at the airport. A small number of customer and our crew have been taken to hospital.”
In a letter handed to passengers at the hotel, BA said: “We do not underestimate how distressing the experience has been for you and we have a dedicated team here to help you.”