A passenger jet dumped fuel over several schools near the Los Angeles International Airport during an emergency landing causing minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults, officials said.

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The fuel sprayed out of the plane in two lines and the strong-smelling vapor descended at midday in the city of Cudahy and nearby parts of Los Angeles County, about 13 miles (21km) east of the airport.

During an emergency landing, fuel may be ejected, but only at high altitudes and above specified locations.

Delta Airlines aircraft returned to the airport due to engine problems.

At least six local schools were hit by fuel spills. At least 60 people were slightly injured.

Diego Martinez, a Park Avenue sixth-grader, said he and his classmates were outside for physical education class when they saw the airplane flying low overhead.

“It was very close,” he said. Shortly afterward the air filled with the pungent odor of fuel. “It was very strong, the odor,” the 12-year-old said.

Diego was not doused but some of his friends complained that their skin was itching.

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All the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground. People were treated with soap and water.

On Tuesday Delta Airlines said that shortly after takeoff flight 89 from Los Angeles International Airport to Shanghai experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return to the airport. The aircraft landed safely after the release of fuel, which was required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight,”

The airline was carrying 149 passengers and 15 crew onboard.

The incident is under investigation.

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