ORLANDO, Fla. — Planes are using a runway that was soaked with jet fuel at Orlando International Airport when an aircraft returned because of an in-flight emergency.
One passenger snapped a picture of jet fuel gushing out of the wing of a plane that was supposed to go to London. Instead, the flight got out over the Atlantic Ocean and had to turn back.
The standard practice for these longer flights is to dump their fuel when they turn back because they want to be as light as possible when they land.
Fuel can be 100,000 pounds' worth of extra weight or even more. It's supposed to be dumped when the flights are high in the air and out away from houses and the airport.
Somehow, this flight was gushing fuel when it touched down and sprayed it all over a runway, soaking a huge swath of land at the airport.
"'Firehose' is the best way to describe it,” said photographer and traveler Judy Tracy. “It was coming out with great force, and there was a lot. And we were taxiing as it was doing that."
Tracy was on her way to hike the Alps via London on a Norwegian Airlines flight aboard a plane the airline had subcontracted from another company.
Out over the Atlantic, the pilot had an announcement.
"We're returning to Orlando because we have a small technical difficulty," Tracy reported the pilot said.
She said the diversion was a disappointment but smooth until the moment she looked out her window and saw gas gushing from the wing.
The spill shut down one of OIA's longest runways as environmental workers came out and cleaned it up.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating how a high-altitude fuel dump turned into a dangerous low-altitude mess. And OIA is still trying to figure out how much it'll cost in the end.
"I learned that a day later, that for sure it was fuel. That rattled me quite a bit," Tracy said.
Planes have been using that runway since it opened the day after the spill, but the airport authority said there's at least some concern that the flood of fuel may compromise the asphalt and require costly and complicated repairs down the road.
The airport is in the middle of rehabbing one runway, and another is supposed to be done next year, which takes those runways out of service.
Unplanned repairs on any runway are inconvenient, to say the least, and the airport still has no idea who's paying.
That's because it's not Norwegian’s plane and the company Norwegian leased it from is another airline in Portugal.