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Illustration by Security Management

Plane Dumps Fuel Before Landing

A passenger plane making an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport dumped fuel on to several nearby schools on Tuesday. At least 60 children and adults were treated for skin irritation and breathing problems.

The Delta Airlines flight returned to the airport due to an engine issue. The passenger plane had released fuel to reduce its landing weight, Delta officials said.

Most of the children and adults who were treated following the fuel dump were attending or working at six local schools. All the injuries were said to be minor, according to media reports.

At Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, roughly 16 miles away from the airport, two classes of students were outside when the fuel was let go.

"I'm very upset. This is an elementary school; these are small children," Cudahy Mayor Elizabeth Alcantar told The Los Angeles Times. 

Hazardous material specialists checked out the nearby schools after the incident and said it was okay to open the schools on normal schedules Wednesday, CNN reported.

Officials with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the agency is investigating the incident, according to various media reports. The FAA has special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating in and out of U.S. airports. In essence, the procedures call for fuel to be dumped over unpopulated areas and at higher altitudes so the fuel can disperse before it reaches the ground to minimize the potential impact on those below.

Some planes, like certain carriers used for long-haul flights, take off weighing more than their maximum allowed landing weight, due to the amount of fuel they carry, under the assumption that weight will be reduced as fuel is consumed. And sometimes, airline crew will make a last-minute decision to leave luggage behind if it is anticipated that overall weight will still be an issue.

However, when a flight is cut short or has to return to the airport for maintenance, the plane may be too heavy to land safely. The pilot may then make the rare decision to dump fuel for weight reduction purposes, if the plane has the capability to do so. It is usually done through special valves, and the fuel is ejected through the tips of the plane’s wings.