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American Airlines Boeing 767 catches fire at Chicago O'Hare airport

Several passengers have been injured after an American Airlines Boeing 767 caught fire before takeoff at Chicago O'Hare airport. All 161 passengers and nine crew members were evacuated from the airplane.

American Airlines Flight 383 was departing Chicago for Miami on Friday afternoon when an engine caught fire, prompting the crew to abort the takeoff and evacuate passengers via emergency chutes, authorities said. 

Television images showed a large plume of black smoke coming from the Boeing which appeared to be damaged at the rear. The evacuation chutes extended from the plane.

"There was substantial fire on the starboard [right] side of the aircraft," said Timothy Sampey, assistant deputy fire commissioner for airport operations.

The plane was fully loaded with 43,000 pounds (19,504 kilograms) of jet fuel, which was leaking when fire crews reached the jet, Sampey told a news conference later. "So they had a heavy volume of fire on both the engine and the entire wing," he said. "This could have been absolutely devastating if it happened later."

Sampey confirmed the incident began with a fire in the left-side engine.

There was no immediate explanation for the cause of the leak. The FAA said it was investigating the incident, and the National Transportation Safety Board had been notified.

Minor injuries

"We transported about 20 patients with minor injuries to several hospitals," Juan Hernandez of the Chicago Fire Department told a news conference.

Seven passengers and one flight attendant were injured and taken to hospitals, according to American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott. The flight aborted takeoff due to an "engine-related mechanical issue," Scott confirmed.

"We are taking care of our customers and crew and are re-accommodating our passengers on another flight to Miami this evening," American Airlines said in a statement.

At least three of the airport's eight runways were closed, and more than 300 flights in and out of the airport were delayed in the two hours after the fire. Normal operations have since resumed.

FedEx Cargo Boeing catches fire  

In a separate incident on Friday afternoon, a FedEx cargo plane caught fire on the runway at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood Airport, on the coast north of Miami in Florida. It caused the airport to shut down for several hours. The south runway reopened to air traffic on Friday evening. 

The pilot and copilot escaped from the aircraft using a rope ladder. No members of the ground crew were hurt.

Most of the fire damage was near the left wing and engine, according to Mike Jachles of Broward Sheriff Fire Rescue. 

FedEx Services spokeswoman Davina Cole said the company was cooperating with authorities.

jm/cmk (AP, AFP)

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