Twenty-seven airmen had a brush with death when the 51-year-old Air Force plane they were aboard caught fire just before takeoff, thanks to one nut connecting the plane's oxygen tubing that wasn't tightened properly, CNN reports. The damage to the surveillance plane is being estimated at more than $62 million. The incident happened April 30 in Nebraska, and on Tuesday the Omaha World-Herald published the Air Force's findings on the fire following a successful Freedom of Information Act request. The improperly tightened nut caused an oxygen leak, which in turn caused a "highly flammable oxygen-rich environment that ignited," CNN cites from the report. According to the World-Herald, a crewman said the blaze looked like a flamethrower, and the pilot was just able to avert takeoff as shouts of "fire" filled his headset.
During its investigation into the incident, the Air Force found only one of the 11 nuts in the plane's oxygen system had been properly tightened, the World-Herald reports. Furthermore, the oxygen system had been cobbled together with parts that were old, of poor quality, and sometimes even the wrong size. The plane had last been serviced by a civilian defense contracting company. But, the World-Herald notes, it's too early to tell if the company will be held financially liable. In the meantime, the 27 airmen aboard the plane can count themselves lucky: One expert told the World-Herald that had the fire happened after takeoff, it would have likely resulted in a fatal crash. (Read more Air Force stories.)