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Plane makes emergency landing at SeaTac; dumps fuel over Puget Sound

Maria Mason took this photo of the airliner from Broomgerrie Beach at 4:26 p.m.
Maria Mason took this photo of the airliner from Broomgerrie Beach at 4:26 p.m. 'We were walking on the beach enjoying the lowtide,' Mason said. 'Noticed a plane that was way too low and saw it dumping fuel.
— image credit: courtesy Maria Mason

A commercial airliner making an emergency landing at SeaTac airport dumped fuel over Puget Sound Wednesday afternoon, trailing an acrid kerosene smell over Bainbridge Island.

According to a statement from the Port of Seattle, the plane, a Boeing 777, departed at 2:25 p.m. bound for South Korea, but lost power to one engine shortly after takeoff.

The plane circled Puget Sound dumping fuel in preparation for the emergency landing at SeaTac. The plane landed safely.

Federal Aviation Administration Spokesperson Mike Fergus said the plane dumped roughly 5,400 gallons of fuel at an altitude of 3,000 to 3,800 feet before landing. The fuel dump was a necessary safety precaution, Fergus said.

“Planes cannot land with a full load of fuel, it’s just not safe,” Fergus said.

He said most, if not all the fuel, should have evaporated before it reached sea level.

The smell noticed across the Sound was likely kerosene fumes, he said.

A strong fuel smell was noticed at both Sakai Intermediate School off Sportsman Club Road and Blakely Elementary School on Blakely Avenue, while the plane was still circling the Sound. At Sakai, lacrosse coach Katherine Van Slyk and her team spotted the plane during an afternoon practice.

“It circled twice and we saw what we now know was fuel coming out,” Van Slyk said.

Shortly afterward the team noticed the fuel smell and the smell clung to several of the players.

At Blakely, two PE classes were outside when the plane flew over, and teachers ushered students inside after smelling the fuel. A few Blakely students complained of irritated eyes and throats, but none of the symptoms were serious, Principal Ric Jones said.

Bainbridge Fire Department fielded several calls Wednesday afternoon from the south end of the island, where citizens were concerned that fuel was hitting the ground. Operations Chief Luke Carpenter said several fire vehicles drove through the area but could not find evidence of a sheen.

“I’m sure it did hit in places. But it is kerosene, and on a warm day like yesterday it would have evaporated very quickly,” Carpenter said.

Ty Anderson, captain of the ferry Tacoma, said passengers aboard his 3 p.m. sailing from Seattle reported seeing fuel falling from the plane over Puget Sound. Anderson said the fuel smell was overwhelming, especially as his ferry neared Tyee Shoal off Eagle Harbor.

“It was very strong, almost nauseating,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the smell began to dissipate later in the afternoon as a wind picked up. He said it was difficult to see any sheen because the water was very flat.

Islander Kim Bottles, who commutes to Seattle by motor boat, said he could also smell the fuel as he crossed the Sound Wednesday afternoon. Bottles said there was not an obvious sheen on the Sound but the water did have an unusual tint.

Even after 5 p.m., Bottles said he could smell the fuel from the deck of his home on Blakely Harbor.

State Department of Ecology spokesperson Larry Altose said the plane dumped fuel over a swath of Puget Sound stretching from the Federal Way area to Shoreline. But any sheen created on the water was too thin to be cleaned up, Altose said.

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