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Seeing fire shoot from the engine of a plane you’re currently seated on, as happened recently on board a Utair Boeing 737 on its way from Moscow’s Vnukovo International Airport (VKO) to the city of Makhachkala, is not something anyone wants to witness. However, in emergency situations like these, it’s important for passengers to follow proper protocol — which in most cases does not involve exiting onto a plane’s wing without any way of getting down, as the blog Live and Let Fly points out.

Patrick Smith, author of Cockpit Confidential and the website Ask The Pilot, tells TPG what the passengers on the Utair jet witnessed was likely a compressor stall. Smith explained that a compressor stall is a “mostly innocuous phenomenon where airflow through the engine is temporarily disrupted,” and added that “passenger-initiated evacuations are never a good idea.”

Smith points out that passengers taking matters into their own hands can put themselves in even more danger, referring to a flight a number of years ago where passengers, refusing to heed flight attendants’ instructions, caused a stampede, which resulted in two people being seriously hurt.

One of the reasons it’s so important to listen to the directions of the flight crew is because some incidents appear to be worse than they actually are. “Miscellaneous engine peculiarities, compressor stalls included, can sometimes put on a show,” Smith said. “Aside from a bang, you might see a long tongue of flame shooting from the back, or even the front, of the cowling. Tough as it might be to accept, the engine is neither exploding nor on fire. This is the nature of a jet: any time the engine is running, fuel is combusting, and certain anomalies will unleash this combustion rather boldly.”

Smith said that it’s normally the cockpit crew who makes the call about whether or not something is an actual emergency, but that the cabin crew can make that decision as well if they determine a situation requires such an action.

The main way to stay safe when you fly is to listen to the crew. They are highly trained professionals whose main responsibility is the safety of the passengers. It’s also a good idea to listen to the preflight briefing, even if you’ve heard it a thousand times. For additional pointers on handling emergency situations on board, check out TPG‘s guide to Staying Alive in a Plane Emergency.

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Image courtesy of James Lauritz via Getty Images.

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