Flight Attendant Killed in Evacuation

Nov. 21, 2000 -- A flight attendant aboard an American Airlines jet fell to his death Monday after opening a door before the plane depressurized during an emergency landing, police said.

Flight attendant Jose Chiu “was basically sucked out” onto the tarmac, said police spokeswoman Nelda Fonticiella.

American Airlines said Chiu had been flown to Jackson Memorial Hospital after the incident, but did not survive. Flight 1291 turned around and made an emergency landing around noon ET Monday, shortly after taking off.

The crew reported that an engine fire warning light had illuminated in the cockpit, airline spokespeople said.

‘Chaotic’ Situation Aboard

Passengers aboard the Haiti-bound jetliner described the landing and evacuation as chaotic.

Once the plane was on the ground, the crew initiated an emergency evacuation, deploying the emergency exit chutes as fire and rescue units rushed to the scene. It was unclear if the plane had come to a stop when Chiu opened the door.

Unlike other large passenger jets, the emergency exit doors on the Airbus 300 open directly outward, like a car door, instead of inwards.

Passenger jets generally do not depressurize until after they have landed, but the exits are equipped with sensors which should block attempts to open them when the cabin is still pressurized.

It is possible that mechanical failure could have caused the accident, ABCNEWS aviation expert John Nance told Good Morning America today, but there are no recorded cases of an Airbus exit door failing while in service. Three other passengers were taken to area hospitals for treatment, and 20 more suffered minor injuries as well.

There was no evidence of an engine fire, authorities said. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. WPLG TV in Miami and the Associated Press contributed to this report.