D E N V E R, Sept. 6, 2001 -- An airport ramp worker was critically burned when a fuel truck caught fire and exploded under a jumbo jet that had just arrived from London.
Some passengers were still on board the British Airways airliner when the fuel truck suddenly burst into flame under the left side of the Boeing 777, which had arrived at gate A-31.
"Somebody yelled and I looked through the window and there's a huge fire there," said passenger John Barlow, waiting to board the jetliner for London.
Airport crash trucks and rescue squads raced to the gate, the burning aircraft and the fuel truck.
"They got there in a hurry," added Barlow.
Witnesses Describe Giant Ball of Flame
Other waiting passengers described a huge fireball.
"The flames were probably 20 feet high, 15 feet long," said Dave Opp. "The whole time, you kept thinking 'Man, this is going to explode.'"
He and his wife, Joy, were also waiting to board the flight.
"A lot of people running around with fire extinguishers, it was really intense and frightening," she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are now investigating the near-disaster.
Hose Was Attached to Fuel Tank
The fuel truck was parked under the jetliner's left wing with a hose attached to the aircraft's fuel tank.
The fire burned one of the jetliner's engines and portions of its wing.
The Denver International Airport Authority and the company whose fuel truck was involved in the incident did not return calls to ABCNEWS.
It was not clear if the terminal was evacuated, or if the airport briefly closed down, when the crash equipment was taken out of its stationhouse to respond to the emergency.
Burns Over 90 Percent of His Body
The name of the critically burned ramp worker has not been released. He remains at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver with second- and third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body, according to a hospital spokeswoman.
More than 200 people were holding tickets for the flight. British Airways is scrambling to rebook its Denver to London-bound passengers on other transatlantic carriers by way of Montreal and New York.
Most, however, stayed the night at airport hotels. It may take several days to rebook passengers, according to a British Airways terminal manager.