LOS ANGELES (CN) – While watching their students on the playground at lunchtime Tuesday, several teachers from Park Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles felt drops after an airplane flew overhead. It took a few seconds for them and their students to register that the liquid was accompanied by an overwhelming odor of jet fuel.
Then panic set in.
Teachers scrambled to get their students indoors, unaware that Delta Airlines Flight 89 from Los Angeles to Shanghai, China, was dumping thousands of pounds of jet fuel over a wide swath of the region ahead of an emergency landing at LAX, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in LA County Superior Court.
Fire officials said nearly 70 people were treated, including faculty and students from Park Avenue, Graham Elementary School and Tweedy Elementary School in South Gate, and a few other locations. The LA County Fire Department said injuries from the incident were minor and no one was taken to the hospital.
But in their lawsuit against Delta Airlines, the Park Avenue teachers say they do not know what health effects jet fuel exposure will have. They also say the mental anguish they experienced in watching their students scream was also traumatizing. Still, the teachers got their students indoors after the incident and tried to calm them down as best they could.
One teacher said her students began screaming and crying because their eyes and skin were burning.
The four women announced their lawsuit at a press conference with their attorney Gloria Allred on Friday, but none of the women wanted to be identified.
Another teacher said it’s not uncommon for planes to fly over the school, but she saw a plane flying extremely low to the ground with two vapor trails streaming behind right before the jet fuel began to drizzle on them.
One teacher, who has taught at the school for 21 years, thought the incident was a terrorist attack.
“I started screaming, ‘It’s gas, it’s gas.’ I thought it was possible retaliation, I didn’t think it was isolated to our school, I thought it was everywhere,” the teacher said as her voice broke.
Allred said more teachers and parents of students are being interviewed and may be added to the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, the Delta pilot contacted air control on Tuesday about a possible engine issue and the Boeing 777 would need to return to LAX. Air traffic controllers asked the pilot if the jet would need to dump fuel.
“Negative. We’ve got it under control,” said the pilot, according to emergency dispatch reports. But the flight crew dumped at about 2,000 feet, showering a wide swath of the region.
“At the time, Flight 89 was flying so low that the fuel it was releasing did not have time to evaporate or dissipate before hitting the ground below,” Allred said.
A Delta spokesperson declined comment, citing pending litigation.
Named plaintiffs include Lizette Barajas, Laura Guzman, Mariana De La Torres and Ananbel Samperio. They seek general and compensatory damages on a single claim of negligence.