DUBAI • An Emirates jet crash-lands in Dubai, suffers an apparent engine explosion, and loses most of its top section to fire. The plane comes to a rest looking as though someone had used a giant, flame-throwing can opener to rip off the length of the cabin.
Despite this tremendous mechanical violence, all 300 people aboard the Boeing 777-300 escaped with their lives. How did this happen?
Among the reasons cited so far for helping the 282 passengers and 18 crew survive the crash-landing, the primary explanations are the "miracle" of engineering and a well-trained crew.
On the engineering front, it was probably advances in three areas that increased survivability.
The first is evacuation. Planes must be evacuated within 90 seconds, a feat flight attendants are rigorously trained to achieve. That means passengers have a fighting chance to flee an airplane before fire and smoke can engulf it.
In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration has invested enormous resources into studying emergency plane "egress", including an Oklahoma City laboratory specialising in such flight-safety issues.
Second, the plastics and fabrics aboard planes are not engineered just to resist fire; they also do not produce toxic fumes when they do burn.
Planes built after 1990 must also meet standards on how much heat is released from materials in a fire and the density of smoke the fire produces.
Lastly, all seats on modern planes such as the 777 are designed to withstand extreme forces up to 16 times the force of earth's gravity. Connections have also been strengthened so that seats do not break loose from the floor in a crash.
Emirates chairman Ahmed Saeed Al Maktoum said at a news conference in Dubai on Wednesday evening that the trouble with the flight was "operational", adding he did not believe there was any security issue. The pilot and co-pilot had logged more than 7,000 flying hours each, he added. The pilot might have attempted a so-called "go-around" - that is, aborting the landing - to avoid wind shear, but that had not been verified, he said.
The airport had issued a wind-shear warning for all runways before the accident, according to the Aviation Safety Network website. The condition occurs when wind direction changes abruptly. In extreme cases, it can be severe enough to cause a plane to lose lift and plunge.
"I want to thank the crew for their professionalism and evacuating the plane in a short time," Sheikh Ahmed said.
Social media photos showed a plane lying crumpled on the tarmac with black smoke pouring from its upper section.
"It was actually really terrifying. As we were landing, there was smoke coming out in the cabin," said passenger Sharon Maryam Sharji. "People were screaming and we had a very hard landing. We left by going down the emergency slides and as we were leaving on the runway, we could see the whole plane catch fire. It was horrifying."
An investigation into the cause of the accident will probably take months. But one thing is clear: Aviation will incorporate the lessons that are learnt and strive to make flying even safer than it already is.