Chinese jet aborts takeoff, catches fire, causing minor injuries from evacuation



BEIJING, May 12 (Reuters) - China's Tibet Airlines said all passengers and crew had been evacuated from an Airbus AIR.PA A319 plane that caught fire after an aborted takeoff in the southwestern city of Chongqing on Thursday.

There were no deaths and only minor injuries among the 113 passengers and nine crew members on board, the airline said in a statement.

Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said 36 people suffered bruises and sprains during the evacuation of flight TV9833 and were sent to local hospitals for examination.

The pilots had interrupted the takeoff in line with procedures after experiencing an abnormality, CAAC said in a statement, leading to an engine scrape and fire after the plane veered off the runway.

Emergency plans were activated and investigators rushed to the scene, the aviation regulator added.

The incident came less than two months after the deadly crash of a China Eastern Airlines 600115.SS plane led CAAC to launch sector-wide inspections to find potential safety lapses.

Unverified video on social media showed a Tibet Airlines plane, a subsidiary of Air China 601111.SS , with heavy smoke and flames pouring from the left side of the aircraft as passengers and crew ran away.

Chongqing Jiangbei International Airport said the aircraft caught fire at 8:09 a.m. local time (0009 GMT).

A passenger identified as Mr A in Chinese media said there was a sudden vibration and oxygen masks lowered before the plane made an unusual sound and veered off the runway.

Crew members noticed that fuel oil was leaking and started evacuating passengers down slides, Mr A said. Fire soon broke out, forcing some passengers including himself to jump from the aircraft, he said, adding that he had injured his back and legs.

Unverified photos on social media show both engines separated from the airframe as well as a major crack in the rear fuselage and damage to the right wing.

The plane involved is a nine-year-old A319, one of the smallest versions of the A320 family. It is powered by CFM56 engines from CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric GE.N and Safran SAF.PA , according to Airfleets.net.

Airbus said it was aware of media reports about the incident and was making all efforts to assess the situation.

Tibet Airlines is a regional airline based in Lhasa. It has a fleet of 39 planes, including 28 A319s, according to Airfleets.net.

On March 21, a China Eastern Airlines 600115.SS Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in mountains in southern China, killing everyone on board. So far there have been few clues about the cause of the accident.

The tragedy shocked a country which had vastly improved its safety record to become one of the best in the world. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, China was one of the world's fastest growing markets for aviation, measured by passenger traffic, during the past decade.
Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Jacqueline Wong & Simon Cameron-Moore

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