LAS VEGAS - A British Airways jet caught fire on Tuesday as it was preparing to take off from Las Vegas, prompting the crew to abort takeoff and evacuate terrified passengers, with several injured.
Jacob Steinberg, a reporter for Britain's Guardian newspaper, said he was asleep on the plane when it came to a "crashing halt" on the runway.
"Initially told to stay seated, then shout of evacuate," he wrote on Twitter, saying the flames had apparently melted some of the jet's windows.
"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," he said.
Steinberg said the pilot later joined the passengers inside the airport terminal and told them the fire was caused by a "catastrophic failure of the engine."
"The pilot looked pretty shook up to be honest," he said. "Has been flying for years, don't think he had ever seen anything like that."
The Federal Aviation Administration said the fire broke out in the left engine of the 257-seat Boeing 777 shortly after 4:00 pm (2300 GMT) and the crew immediately aborted takeoff and ordered an evacuation.
"Passengers deplaned on the runway using emergency slides and (were) bused to the terminal," FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told AFP.
"The aircraft, a 777-200 experienced a technical issue as it was preparing for takeoff from McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas" heading for London.
Stunned passengers flee
Paul Berberian, a passenger aboard another plane that was on the tarmac at the time of the incident, described watching in disbelief as the British Airways plane caught fire and smoke billowed from the fuselage.
A video shot by Berberian and aired on CNN showed passengers using evacuation slides and running away on the tarmac as emergency vehicles rushed to the site to douse the flames.
"We were all glued to the side of the plane watching this unfold," he said of fellow passengers on his flight.
There were 159 passengers and 13 crew on the flight, according to the FAA, which said seven people were treated for injuries.
However, British Airways, which said there were two fewer passengers on board, described the cause of the fire as a "technical issue."
"Our crew evacuated the aircraft safely and the fire was quickly extinguished by the emergency services at the airport," a company statement said.
"A small number of customers and our crew have been taken to hospital as a precaution."
An AFP correspondent at the airport said the blaze was quickly put out by some 50 firefighters who rushed to the site within minutes along with other emergency vehicles.
Passengers described scenes of panic on the plane with one witness saying there was "a lot of screaming" as fumes filled the cabin and the crew deployed the emergency slides.
Some of passengers posted dramatic images and videos that showed plumes of smoke and flames engulfing the aircraft.
"Just got evacuated from our flight#BA2276 plane caught fire somehow omg," passenger Dominic Worthington wrote on Twitter.
'Gathering more information'
McCarran International Airport said traffic on runway three, where the incident took place, was suspended but flights were operating normally from the three other runways.
Passengers from the stricken plane were taken to a hotel near the Las Vegas strip for the night while awaiting another flight.
"We're aware of the incident at McCarran Airport in Las Vegas," Boeing said in a statement.
"Our teams are currently gathering more information."
In 2014, a British Airways plane heading to Lyon, France, was forced to turn back to London's Heathrow Airport after a witness saw flames "spitting" out of the engine on takeoff.
Richard Aboulafia, an aviation expert at Teal Group, said he did not believe Tuesday's fire was linked to any flaws with the Boeing 777.
"The 777 remains one of the safest forms of transport ever invented," he told AFP.
"While we don't know about this incident, there have been no significant 777 crashes or fires that resulted from flaws with the aircraft."