Fear, in a million languages

Rochester man tells of

in-flight fire, emergency landing over weekend

By Bob Freund

Rochester resident Jon Van Norman had an aisle seat Sunday night as chaos broke out on a flight from Athens to London.


Shortly after takeoff, he was startled by a choppy sound, somewhat like the engine was dying.

"Then, all of a sudden, I see these big, red-orange flashes coming from outside the window," said Norman, who was returning from a weekend in Athens.

"Everybody was screaming ‘Fire’ in about a million different languages," Van Norman said this morning from London. "It was pretty chaotic."

Van Norman, a Century High School graduate and Purdue University sophomore, was among about 120 passengers aboard the easyJet flight.

The Boeing 737 jet returned safely to the Athens airport, flying on one of its two engines. But much of 40 minutes in the air was "one of the most frightening experiences in my life," the 20-year-old student said.

Something in the right engine had broken. One passenger quoted in the Daily Mail newspaper from London reported seeing "flames coming through the engine."

The most unnerving part was panicked passengers yelling in different languages, Van Norman said. After a delay, a cabin crew member tried to instruct passengers in Greek and in English, but had to give up on the English, leaving Norman and other passengers wondering. Norman was traveling back with one of five students who had been on a three-day holiday.

The pilot did assure passengers that he had practiced flying on one engine many times in a simulator. "So I’m thinking … ‘Great .… Can he do it in real life?’" Van Norman said.


The ride was rough. "It was more like you were hitting a lot of turbulence," the student said. He estimated it at 20 to 30 minutes, as the plane circled over water in a holding pattern and dumped fuel before landing in Athens.

The only injuries involved were some people who developed breathing problems or fainted.

Van Norman is the son of Eric and Mary Van Norman of Rochester. He has been studying abroad in London since January. easyJet is a discount carrier in Europe.

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