Kids Playing as Delta Dumped Jet Fuel on School Playground Thought ‘It Was Raining’

Child speaks with reporters
ABC News/YouTube

Shortly after takeoff Tuesday, a Delta Airlines flight leaving Los Angeles International Airport encountered a sudden emergency, and was forced to dump fuel on the ground below. There was just one problem, though: Directly below them was a schoolyard, where dozens of young children were playing. Officials say that at least 20 children and as many as 60 people were exposed to jet fuel and fumes in the incident, and they're starting to speak out about their experiences.

  • It happened shortly before noon Tuesday, just minutes after Delta Flight 89 took off from LAX on route to Shanghai.

    There were nearly 150 passengers on board, the LA Times reported, when pilots became aware of an engine issue that forced them to turn back. 

    Passenger Tim Lefebvre, a musician bound for China to perform at several gigs, told the paper that he began hearing loud popping sounds as the plane continued its ascension.

    “It was kind of right next to me,” Lefebvre recalled. “I knew that wasn’t good. The pilot came on a couple minutes later and said we were going back to LAX, and that was that.”

    But apparently, that wasn't all.

    In the process of returning to LAX, pilots were also forced to perform an emergency landing safety measure of releasing fuel from the plane.

    In a public statement issued later night, Delta attempted to describe the reasoning behind it, saying that in order for the aircraft to land safely so soon after takeoff, it had to reach "a safe landing weight." Typically, the plane would have naturally used up a good portion of its jet fuel on route to Shanghai, which is a 13-hour journey from Los Angeles. But because it had only been in the air for less than an hour, it was still carrying the extra weight.

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  • On the ground below, confusion broke out over what exactly was falling from the sky.

    “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 Borgus, 11, told the LA Times. “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.”

    Josue was in gym class at the time at Park Avenue Elementary School in Cudahy, California, where the incident took place. He was just one of many children who looked up into the sky to see a Boeing 77 overheard -- only moments before getting showered with jet fuel.

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

    "My friend said that it was raining, but I didn't see any clouds, another student, Diego Martinez, told ABC reporters. "And it was very strong, the odor."

    Sixth-grader Miguel Cervantes was also confused.

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

    The fuel hit his shirt and pants, and the odor was overwhelming. In less than an hour, his parents had been called and he was sent home.

  • Miguel's mother, Ana Cervantes, was shocked by the news -- as were many other parents of students at Park Avenue Elementary.

    Luckily, though, she said her son seems to be doing OK, and it was nothing a little soap and water couldn't take care of.

    “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 told the LA Times.

  • Freddie Contreras, another parent who lives close the school, is also concerned about the toxins that have been dumped into his community.

    Contreras told the paper he thought he was seeing glass rain down outside his apartment, and raced outside to be greeted by an overwhelming odor. His 2016 Honda Civic had been doused with jet fuel -- so much so that he's afraid to even drive it, for fear of setting off an explosion.

    “I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, and I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew it was gas or something toxic,” Contreras recalled.

    His son, who attends Park Avenue Elementary, was safe, but his sister who lives nearby has been experiencing headaches from breathing in the gas.

  • All told, at least 60 people were treated on site after the incident, which included people affected in the surrounding area.

    According to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, more than 70 firefighters and paramedics were dispatched to Park Avenue Elementary School, where 20 children and 11 adults were treated for minor injuries.

    As reports have continued to come in, however, it's been reported that people at other nearby schools also were affected, including Tweedy Elementary School, San Gabriel Elementary School, Graham Elementary School, Jordan High School, and 93rd Street Elementary School.

    Luckily, all injuries reported have been minor, and no one was taken to the hospital.