Boise & Garden City

Passengers criticize Allegiant Air’s handling of evacuation at Boise Airport

Before evacuating onto the wing of Allegiant Air Flight 330, some passengers reported feeling scared for their safety and had difficulty breathing because of fumes leaking into the cabin.

The flight crew did and said little to keep the 163 passengers on board informed, according to four passengers on the flight.

When the plane, arriving in Boise from Los Angeles, touched down around 7 p.m. Friday, the scent of gas started leaking into the cabin. At the gate, it became unbearable to some passengers.

“When the plane started descending you could start smelling the (fuel),” said Blanca Robles, of Caldwell, sitting in row 29. “When we landed it started getting stronger.”

Upon arriving at the gate, some passengers prepared to deplane, got their bags, and stepped into line, said Deana Purkiss, of Eagle, who was sitting in row 12 with her husband and three children.

“There were some people who were taking their time and some people panicking,” she said.

Kelly Graf, of Eagle, farther back in the plane in row 27, was scared about how long it was taking to get off the plane.

“You only have whatever is in the cabin (for) air and all that was coming in was gasoline. I was trying to breathe through my sweater,” Graf said. “Realistically I didn’t know how much longer I could stand there without getting sick.”

Then passengers noticed visible vapors coming out of the air vents, Purkiss said.

“People are seeing what they think (is) smoke and smelling what smells like high amounts of gasoline,” she said. “Our bags still smell like gasoline.”

“I didn’t see (any) flight attendants around,” said Robles’ brother, Martin Lopez, of Nampa, sitting at 31C. “Nothing was done. Nothing was said.”

That’s when passengers decided to open the emergency exit and get out to breathe fresh air, Lopez said.

“The stewardess didn’t even come back, nothing on the speaker, nothing,” Robles said. “All the people in the back were stuck. People started jumping off (the plane) on the wing.”

But, if there had been more information from the flight crew, passengers may not have panicked, Graf said. Purkiss agreed and said the crew should have provided more assistance.

“In retrospect, if they would have announced, ‘Everybody leave your bags,’ we could have gotten off faster,” she said.

The pilot did get on the intercom to tell passengers the vapor was not smoke, but condensation coming from the air conditioning units, Purkiss said. But passengers who were already on the wing at that time did not hear it, Graf said.

After the line moved, passengers trickled back through the plane and out into the airport. Lopez said he tried to speak with flight attendants, but was told to speak with Allegiant staff downstairs. But, he couldn’t find anyone from Allegiant downstairs, he said.

Lopez said he felt so ill from breathing in fumes that he went to the hospital after leaving the airport.

Allegiant Air released a statement Saturday declaring no passengers or crew had been in danger because of the fumes.

“At Allegiant the safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority,” according to the statement. “Upon arrival at the gate, normal deplaning procedures were in progress during which a fuel smell was observed within the cabin. Passengers then initiated an evacuation through the over wing doors.”

Boise Airport spokesperson Sean Briggs confirmed Friday there had been a fuel leak from an auxiliary motor. Passengers were helped off the wing, and no one was injured. The leak was cleaned within an hour, he said.

In its statement, Allegiant noted that passengers who were scheduled to use the plane to fly back to Los Angeles departing at 7:08 p.m. used a replacement aircraft that left at 12:11 a.m. and were issued $50 vouchers for future flights.

Lopez, Purkiss, Robles and Graf said they did not get the same voucher offer.

“I want a reimbursement for that flight,” Robles said.

As of Saturday night Allegiant did not respond to specific questions about how the flight crew handled communication with passengers during the fuel leak or what their protocol is for those situations.

The plane involved was a MD-80, a twin-engine commercial jet.

Kris Rodine contributed to this report.