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?Hot start' panics Delta passenger

By Ed Brock

If the next time you get on a plane at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport and you see flames shooting from the engine, don't panic, officials say.

The chances of seeing that phenomenon is fairly rare, officials say.

A passenger on Delta Air Line Flight 1036 from Tampa to Atlanta apparently did panic when he saw fire coming from the Boeing 757's engine as it was leaving the gate at Tampa International Airport around 7:15 a.m. Monday.

"Initial reports told us that a passenger chose to open an emergency door," said Delta spokesman John Kennedy.

Opening the door led to an automatic deployment of the plane's evacuation shoots and "some passengers chose to immediately evacuate."

About six or seven of those passengers received minor injuries from sliding down the ramp and were taken to area hospitals as a precaution, Kennedy said. The rest of the passengers on the plane evacuated through the gate and were put on another plane.

Kennedy said the passenger's actions were "contrary to instructions from flight attendants."

What the passenger really saw was a phenomenon known as a "hot start."

In a hot start excess fuel accumulates and is blown out, an effect that can be "startling" said Liz Verdier, a spokeswoman for Boeing offices in Seattle.

"It isn't very frequent," Verdier said. "Because it happens so infrequently is what makes it so startling."

A hot start can occur when a plane has been standing overnight, or for other reasons such as when wind blows into the engine's tailpipe and causes the fuel to build up.

However, hot starts are not dangerous in any way, Verdier said. The way to know the difference between a hot start and a real problem, Verdier said, is to watch the flight crew.

"They're the ones who are the experts," Verdier said. "It isn't anything for a passenger to make a decision on."

Hot starts also are not something the National Transportation and Safety Board encourages airlines to tell passengers about, said Jeff Kennedy, NTSB regional director in Miami.

"If they continue to watch they'd see the fire does go out," Kennedy said.

John Kennedy said it is too soon to say whether Delta will begin telling passengers about the possibility of hot starts in pre-flight instructions.

The NTSB is currently taking reports from the 170 passengers who were on the plane and from the plane's crew. Neither Delta nor the NTSB would release the names of the passengers who were injured in the incident.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story).