Passengers onboard a flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg were left ‘terrified’ and were ‘sobbing’ and ‘shaking’ after a fire in a galley oven sent ‘toxic’ fumes into cabin, according to witnesses who were onboard the aircraft.
Flight attendants onboard the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight rushed to put out the fire after putting on special fire-fighting breathing hoods to protect them from the fumes and the heat.
The fire erupted around two hours into the flight but despite what appeared to be a serious emergency situation, the pilots of the Boeing 777-200 decided to return to Amsterdam rather than divert to a closeby airport.
At the time, the aircraft had just passed France on its way to South Africa and was flying between the Spanish island of Menorca and Sardinia.
Passenger Tiana Cline said she saw she was watching a movie when she suddenly noticed 30 passengers standing in the aisle in front of her. Some of them were shaking and others were sobbing. Tiana says they appeared to be terrified.
It turns out that a fire had just started in an oven in the aft galley, and fumes from the fire had drifted into the cabin. Flight attendants responding to the fire immediately moved the passengers away while they got to work to extinguish the flames.
The Dutch safety board (Onderzoeksraad) said it had sent investigators to Schiphol Airport as part of a research mission into the incident. A number of passengers were attended to by medical personnel on arrival in Amsterdam – some of whom, Tiana says, were still shaking and crying.
Neither the Onderzoeksraad nor KLM have yet commented on what might have caused the galley fire. Although a relatively rare event, galley oven fires are not unheard of and are usually the result of some sort of ‘debris’ inside the oven overheating – like paper that shouldn’t be there.
In some cases, the fire is the result of an electrical overheating problem. Flight attendants are trained to use special oxygen-depriving firefighting aerosols to contain these types of fires.
Once the fire has been put out, and the aircrew are confident the fire is fully extinguished and has not spread, it is not always necessary to perform an immediate diversion, such as in this case.
In a statement, a spokesperson for KLM told us: “An incident occurred on flight KL591 from Amsterdam to Johannesburg on 9 February. There was a fire in the aft kitchen of the aircraft. Cabin crew swiftly extinguished the fire.”
“As a safety precaution, the flight returned to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Passengers and crew were unharmed. All passengers have been rebooked to a new flight yesterday.”
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.