Less than a week after a Delta flight heading for China dumped fuel over playgrounds and schools in the Los Angeles area, four teachers have sued the airline, claiming emotional anguish and distress as well as accusing the pilot of failing to follow protocol.
The four teachers, who were not identified in the suit, contend the airline was negligent for allowing the plane to take off in the first place.
In their lawsuit, the teachers said they could feel the jet fuel on their clothing, skin and eyes and began feeling dizzy, nauseated and sick, as the jet fuel rained down on them.
"They also suffered severe emotional distress from the knowledge that they had involuntarily ingested toxins," the teachers' attorney, Gloria Allred said in a statement Friday. "Their severe emotional distress includes the reasonable fear that the exposure to and ingestion of jet fuel might produce serious health consequences in the future."
Delta Flight 89, bound for Shanghai from Los Angeles, reportedly began experiencing engine trouble shortly after take off on Tuesday. The pilot declared an in-flight emergency, notifying air traffic control that they would need to return to LAX. However, the pilot did not inform the tower that the flight would need to dump its fuel load before landing, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Experts say airplanes rarely need to dump fuel with the procedure only used in cases of emergency, or if a pilot has to reach a safe landing weight, as was the case in this incident. However, planes generally dump their fuel at altitudes of 10,000 and over water, which allows the fuel to dissipate and turn to mist. The Delta flight was at around 2,000 feet and over several schools and playgrounds when it began to dump fuel.
According to the lawsuit filed by the teachers in Los Angeles Superior Court, air traffic control "specifically asked the Delta pilot if he needed to dump fuel with the pilot allegedly responding, "Negative" and that "We've got it under control."
The lawsuit claims that if the pilot had properly alerted air traffic control to the fuel dump, they would have been rerouted to a safer location where the plane could safely dump fuel away from the general public.
The fuel dump prompted an emergency response at multiple schools in the area from hazardous-materials teams, however, only minor injuries were reported. Firefighters said 20 children and 11 adults were treated at the campus.
"Students and staff were on the playground at the time and may have been sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes," The Los Angeles Unified School District said in a statement. "(School officials) immediately called paramedics, who are on the scene and are treating anyone who is complaining of skin irritation or breathing problems.''
According to the district, school officials were "visiting every classroom to ensure the safety and well-being of all students and staff.''
One teacher participating in the suit said her students believed the jet fuel was rain at first and when they looked up, a "noxious liquid then overwhelm [their] eyes, mouths, noses, lungs and skin."
"I immediately began to rush my students indoors, as the fumes were stifling," the teacher said in a statement. "Students began screaming and crying because their eyes and skin were burning. Fear, dread, panic, and helplessness ensued."
Another teacher said they believed the jet fuel dump was the result of a terror attack.
"I couldn’t smell anything other than the gas," the teacher said in a statement. "I couldn’t taste anything other than the gas."
Jet fuel exposure can lead to liver damage, decreased immune response, and impaired neurological functions and heart, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.