Midair ‘fire balls’ force Spirit Airlines Orlando flight to return to Baltimore

Published on: October 01, 2022 1:58 PM EDT|Updated on: October 03, 2022 2:28 PM EDT

A Spirit airlines plane takes off from Miami International Airport on July 27, 2022 in Miami, Florida. Spirit Airlines Inc. shareholders are voting whether to merge with Frontier Airlines or JetBlue Airways Corp.

A plane bound for Orlando was quickly sent back to the tarmac at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Friday night after a mechanical malfunction caused what appeared to passengers and spectators on the ground like bright flashes of fire emanating from the plane.

For Kayla Hall, 13, her family’s trip to Universal Studios got off to a terrifying start as she saw what she described as “fire balls” outside the plane window just shortly after takeoff.

“Right outside the window I saw bright orange flashing lights,” said Kayla. “I heard banging — it sounded like somebody was shooting the plane.”

Her father, Ken Hall, tried to reassure her that it would be OK, but he and his wife, Moriah, seated on the other side of the aisle, were terrified, too.

“There were moments there that we weren’t sure if we were going to land safely,” Moriah told The Banner on Saturday morning while the Cockeysville family sat on hold with Spirit Airlines trying to get seats on a Saturday afternoon flight rather than the evening flight the airline had rebooked them on.

One passenger passed out and was treated by flight attendants with an oxygen tank, the family recounted. But otherwise, they described the scene as remarkably calm. “The flight attendants were very calm moving around the cabin. There was no screaming,” Ken said. His son, Jeremy, 10, barely looked up from playing Little Alchemy 2 on his iPad.

In a statement, Spirit Airlines wrote that the plane experienced a “mechanical issue” and said that the plane would be removed from service and inspected by maintenance staff. A spokesman for BWI Airport said that the airport had no additional comment beyond the airline’s statement.

The flight departed from Baltimore at 8:21 p.m. and landed back on the ground just a half-hour later, according to FlightAware.

Spectators on the ground took to social media to describe the frightening scene.

One Glen Burnie resident described watching an “airplane on fire” fly over her house. “This plane was super low and shook my house. I looked out the window and it looked like fire spitting out the back engine,” she wrote. Others reported what sounded like an explosion.

“I will definitely remember this and be nervous about planes,” said Kayla. But she’s still eager to get on the flight to Universal Studios later today, where she plans to ride the roller coasters and Hagrid’s motorbike ride at Harry Potter World. “I might just be able to get over it,” Kayla said. “Because you have to get to where you’re flying to.”