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Children in P.E. class showered with jet fuel: ‘We thought it was rain’

Kids hit by jet fuel in playground
Children cover their noses after a jetliner dumped fuel on their school campus in Cudahy while making an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.
(KTLA-TV Channel 5)

Josue Burgos was in physical education class at Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy when he felt what seemed at first to be rain.

Then he looked up and saw a jetliner flying above.

“We came out and we were playing and the airplane was outside and we thought it was rain, but then we knew it was throwing gas on us and everybody started to run,” Josue, 11, said. “We went to the auditorium and we knew what happened. We went back to class. We stayed for one hour and then we went home.”

This was the scene at the campus when fuel was dumped from Delta Flight 89 as it made an emergency landing at Los Angeles International Airport.

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The Los Angeles County Fire Department said more than 70 firefighters and paramedics raced to the school, and 20 children and 11 adults were treated for minor injuries. No one was taken to the hospital.

Department spokesman Nicholas Prange said two classes were outside when the liquid rained down shortly before noon. Students and staff were instructed to go indoors and remain there for the time being.

How did pilots of a Delta jetliner end up dumping fuel on a playground filled with children in Cudahy? That is the question many are asking.

The jet had taken off from LAX with 149 passengers on board and was en route to Shanghai when it turned around and headed back to the airport. It landed safely.

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Park Avenue was one of at least three campuses affected, said Los Angeles police Sgt. Rudy Perez. The others were 93rd Street Elementary and Jordan High School, both in Los Angeles. A total of about 40 people were treated by the Fire Department for respiratory issues.

Josue said the fuel landed on his sweater, shirt and shorts and the odor was immediately noticeable.

“Yeah, it smelled bad,” he said. “It wasn’t water.”

Sixth-grader Miguel Cervantes was one of the students taking part in P.E. classes outside at Park Avenue. He said he was confused by what was happening.

“I saw an airplane and I thought smoke was coming out,” Miguel said. “Then when it got closer, I knew it was gas because a little bit fell on me.”

The Shanghai-bound flight left LAX, looped over the San Fernando Valley and southeastern L.A. County before making an emergency return to the airport.

Miguel said fuel hit parts of his shirt and pants and that within an hour he had been sent home.

His mother, Ana, received a call about the events and rushed over to Park Avenue.

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“Just a small amount landed on my son’s clothes and on his arms, but we washed him with soap and changed his clothes and he seems fine,” Ana Cervantes said.

When asked if she would destroy her son’s clothes as a precaution, Cervantes said such a measure was too drastic.

“Those are expensive clothes,” she said. “We’ll just wash them with soap and water.”


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