On 9 February, a KLM flight heading from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to Johannesburg, South Africa, had to return to the Netherlands after about two hours in the air because a fire had broken out in the plane’s galley.
The Boeing 777-200 had been flying for about two hours and was between the Spanish island of Menorca and Italy’s Sardinia when passengers started noticing smoke filling up the cabin. A fire had erupted in one of the ovens in the plane’s galley and, although the cabin crew reacted quickly, some fumes still made it through the aircraft, distressing many passengers.
Flight attendants are trained to manage these kinds of situations and were prepared. They put on protective equipment and used special oxygen-depriving, aerosol based fire extinguishers to put out the fire.
Despite some of the smoke making its way into the cabin, since the fire was quickly extinguished and passengers were calmed down and shown back to their seats by flight attendants, the pilots decided the situation was under control and did not require emergency diverting to a closer by airport. The flight landed back at Schiphol around 2:36 pm.
A medical crew waited the arrival of the plane to tend to passengers in need. Tiana Cline, who was onboard the flight and described the events on twitter, said many people were shaken and even terrified by the experience. Crying and shaking people were being debriefed by medical staff after landing.
A replacement aircraft was prepared for those who still wanted to make the journey that day. After luggage was transferred form one plane to the other, travellers were able to continue their trip. Alternative options were also made available for those who wanted to postpone the flight.
Investigators from the Dutch safety board Onderzoeksraad were sent to the scene to assess the situation. While such incidents are rare, it is not unusual for fires to start in plane ovens. This happens either because of an electrical problem causing overheating or because the appliances are nor cleaned properly. If some sort of debris is left inside, such as packaging paper, it can ignite. In most cases, these fires are kept under control and pilots even continue flying to the destination.
So far, neither KLM nor the Onderzoeksraad have indicated what the cause of the fire was in this particular case.