A man is suing Delta Air Lines over allegations that he suffered severe and lasting personal injuries after being doused in jet fuel that was dumped out of a Delta jet as it flew at low altitude over a populated area of Los Angeles in January 2020.
Delta flight DL89 had just taken off from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) bound for Shanghai on January 14, 2020, when the pilots realised there was an issue with one of the engines and decided to return to LAX.
Because the Boeing 777 was heavy with fuel for the planned 14-hour flight to China, the pilots had to dump most of the jet fuel in order to make a safe return to LAX. Unusually, rather than dumping the fuel over the sea or an unpopulated area, 15,000 gallons of jet fuel was jettisoned over heavily populated areas at an altitude of just 2,000 feet.
At least 56 people on the ground suffered skin and lung irritation after coming into contact with fuel, including children and teachers at several schools in the area. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said at the time that “jet fuel can cause skin irritation and/or upper respiratory irritation such as cough”.
Public health officials said that they expected these symptoms to “improve on their own” and without medical intervention but Gerald Castaneda of Pico Rivera, California, says he sustained “severe and lasting personal injuries” that has already required medical attention and may require future visits to the doctor.
Castaneda claims his injuries have prevented him from working resulting in a loss of earnings.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles last week, claims Delta and the pilots were “careless, reckless and negligent” when they initiated the fuel dump because they should have realised that there was a “substantial risk of harm to persons on the ground” by doing so.
Delta is already facing several other lawsuits, along with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation over the January 2020 incident. Castaneda is seeking compensation for general damages, medical expenses, loss of earnings and damage to property.
Delta has been contacted for comment. At the time, a spokesperson for the Atlanta-based airline said releasing the fuel was “part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight”.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.