Smoke and fumes invading Flybe Embraer 195 cabin resulted in an emergency evacuation. During the event, some passengers exited and re-entered the aircraft while others sustained minor injuries trying to leave via overwing doors and rear slides, Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) reported on September 17, 2020.

Flybe’s Embraer ERJ 190-200 LR (registered as G-FBEJ) was ready for takeoff from Exeter Airport (EXT), UK, to Alicante Airport (ALC), Spain, on February 28, 2019. However, after starting the engines, the two pilots operating the aircraft reported smoke and fumes in the cabin. The crew decided to evacuate the aircraft following a standard procedure, after notifying the air traffic control. 

There were six emergency exits in total - four doors with inflatable slides and two overwing exits that the passengers opened once the evacuation began. The cabin crew said that the passengers remained calm during the procedure. 

However, some people on board attempted to leave through the overwing exits but were confused about how they should get off the wing. Two passengers had reportedly jumped down and proceeded to help others to the ground. But despite the help, several passengers voiced complaints that it was a ‘very long drop’ while some others had landed awkwardly, sustaining minor injuries from the fall.

One passenger who had left the aircraft via the overwing exit noted that the wing surface was ‘very slippery.’ The passenger fell over and suffered a minor injury.

Confusion ensued as the people who were now out on the wing decided to re-enter the cabin in hopes of finding an alternative exit route. According to the report, a 61 cm-wide walkway, that was marked with black paint at the root of the wing and pointed towards the trailing edge, went unnoticed by the passengers. Many complained about the lack of instructions and guidance once they were out on the wing.

Alternatively, passengers who evacuated through the rear slides found them very steep and were “surprised by the speed at which they slid down them”. Unlike in the front, the rear slides do not curve towards the bottom, making the journey down high in velocity. In turn, a number of passengers sustained minor cuts and grazes, while one elderly passenger exiting through the rear right slide suffered a broken ankle.

According to the report, the fumes appeared due to the residual cleaning solution that remained in the engine compressor bleed air ducts from the cleaning that took place the night before the accident. When the pilots engaged the thrust levers for take-off, “the ECS bleed source switched to HPC fifth stage engine bleed, allowing smoke and fumes from the residual detergent to enter the cockpit and cabin.”

The AAIB recommended the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to amend certification requirements relating to overwing exit escape route marking design so that the escape route would be apparent to evacuating passengers. The department also noted that the FAA should re-evaluate the 1.8m overwing emergency exit height as an acceptable criterion to reduce the risk of injuries while evacuating.

Flybe was a British regional airline that filed for administration on March 5, 2020. The air carrier ceased all operations after not being able to withstand the impact of COVID-19.