Pieces of a failed engine ripped into the cabin of a Delta Air Lines jet as it sped down a runway Saturday, killing a mother and son and forcing the pilot to abort the takeoff.
Flight 1288 was headed to Atlanta carrying its capacity of 142 passengers and five crew members, said Kathleen Bergen, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta. In addition to the fatalities, seven people were injured, at least one seriously.
The 8-year-old MD-88 jet was 1,500 feet down the runway when passengers reported seeing smoke from the left engine, Bergen said.
Delta spokesman Bill Berry said pieces of the engine pierced the fuselage after the engine caught fire, killing a mother and son in the cabin. "At this point we believe it was a major failure of the engine," Berry said.
The dead were identified as Anita S. Saxton and Nolan Saxton, 12, of Scottville, Mich. No age was available for Anita Saxton. The victims were seated in row 37, very close to the engine, Berry said.
Airline officials were investigating whether a bird or other outside object may have caused the engine fire.
"At first I thought it was a blown tire until I saw the engine flying off the runway," said Jean Paul Menard, a passenger traveling with his wife and 11-month-old child. "It was the front part of the engine. I seen the smoke and I just wanted to get my family off of there."
Mark Sullivan, a spokesman for East Hartford, Conn.-based Pratt & Whitney, which manufactured the engines for the McDonnell Douglas plane, said the company believes a fan blade in the front of the left engine failed.
Broken pieces of the blade probably penetrated the fan case and debris went flying, Sullivan said.
"We believe that is what happened. But we have not confirmed it because we haven't examined the engine," Sullivan said.
The plane's engines, located on each side of the rear fuselage, are the Pratt & Whitney-made JT8D-219s. In May, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended to the FAA that certain Pratt & Whitney jet engines be inspected for cracks. Sullivan said the JT8D-219 was not among those to be inspected.
The NTSB's recommendation stemmed from an incident Jan. 30 at LaGuardia International Airport in New York City in which an engine on a Delta Air Lines Boeing 727 failed, throwing several parts through the engine covering. The crew halted the takeoff and passengers were evacuated without injury, the board said.
At least 30 passengers on Saturday's flight were evacuated using slides. The remaining passengers used the stairs. Five of the injured were taken to Baptist Hospital.
The NTSB said it was sending investigators to the crash site.