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7th of February 2006

At 22.41lt a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-71F (N748UP) was pushed back from the gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), Atlanta, Georgia USA. Onboard a crew of three, Captain, Co-Pilot and Flight Engineer. Their destination, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA. After an uneventful IFR flight till that moment, the aircraft started its descent towards PHL. While descending through FL310, the Co-Pilot queried if the other crew members also smelled an odour that appeared similar to wood burning, the time 23.34.

The sun rises on the 8th of February, with the fire damage evident on the fuselage (© NTSB)


The Flight Engineer replied that he had smelled it a couple of seconds. About a minute later the Co-Pilot stated that the smell was getting pretty strong. The Flight Engineer opened the cockpit door and stated that the smell was stronger in the back. Another 3 1/2 minutes later the Co-Pilot and Flight Engineer agreed it was the smell like word burning, stating that it did not resemble electric smoke. In absence of a cargo smoke warning the decision was made to continue to PHL and not divert.

With the Co-Pilot as the pilot flying the Captain and the Flight Engineer spent several minutes attempting to identify the source of the by using several emergency checklists. At 23.45 the flight was cleared to descend to 6000 feet, at that time the crew still attempting to identify the source of the smoke. The Flight Engineer left the flight deck at one point and opened the smoke barrier and used a torch to see if he could see any source Burned cargo on the main deck (©NTSB) of smoke, He reported back that it was “definitely stronger in the back” but that there was no smoke or haze. The troubleshooting continued while the aircraft descended toward PHL. Approximately ten minutes later a Cargo Smoke Warning illuminated, indicating smoke in the main cargo compartment. The relevant checklist was called for by the Captain and actioned by the crew. at 23.55 cleared the flight for a visual approach to runway 27R and transferred the flight to the tower controller. After contacting the tower controller the flight was cleared to land, this was confirmed by the Captain, adding that they had a Cargo Smoke Warning active and requested the emergency services meet them on landing. The tower controller activated the crash alarm after hearing the message from the Captain.


The burned fuselage of the DC-8 the day after the fire (© NTSB)

At 2356 the Flight Engineer concluded that they had a fire in the "lower aft cargo section C". The crew donned their oxygen mask and the Flight Engineer was tasked with performing the relevant checklist. A little confusion occurred as the runway designated for emergencies was 27L, the crew received confirmation they were clear to land at 27R, with the fire service relocating to runway 27R. The aircraft touched down 1 minute before midnight on runway 27R of PHL directly after the touchdown the Flight Engineer reported smoke in the cockpit. As soon as the aircraft came to a stop an emergency evacuation was called for and the Emergency Evacuation checklist was actioned. All crew members evacuated the aircraft using the emergency slide at the lefthand forward (L1) door, sustaining minor injuries. The aircraft was damaged extensively by the fire and was damaged beyond repair. The accident was investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board on the 4th of December 2007 they issued their extensive 112-page report, which is available by

clicking here. They concluded that the probable cause was, (taken from the report);

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was an in-flight cargo fire that initiated from an unknown source, which was most likely located within cargo container 12, 13, or 14. Contributing to the loss of the aircraft were the inadequate certification test requirements for smoke and fire detection systems and the lack of an on-board fire suppression system.

Diagram of the airplane's cargo configuration,

the suspected fire origin location marked in yellow. (Source NTSB report)

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