Two bullets fired during the mass shooting in Las Vegas struck a large jet fuel storage tank at the edge of McCarran International Airport, and one round pierced the tank, but there was no fire or explosion, an airport spokesman said on Friday.
Airport authorities declined to speculate on whether the gunman, Steve Paddock, was aiming to hit the cylindrical 43,000-barrel fuel tank or whether the vessel was struck by two stray rounds in the midst of the shooting spree.
But the position of the fuel tank, about twice as far from Paddock’s high-rise hotel perch as the country music festival he strafed, and at a different angle to the hotel, suggested he deliberately aimed at the tank.
The fuel storage vessel lies along the airport’s western perimeter at a distance, according to the Las Vegas-Review Journal newspaper, of roughly 1,100 feet (335 m) from the outdoor concert ground where 58 people were killed.
The tank was also about 2,000 feet from the gunman’s 32nd-floor windows in the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Las Vegas strip, the Review-Journal reported.
Regardless of the distance, or velocity of the gunfire, and contrary to popular belief, there is virtually zero likelihood of rifle shots triggering a fire or explosion at such a facility.
Airport spokesman Chris Jones said this is because jet fuel, while combustible, is not a flammable liquid that is easily detonated by gunfire. Moreover, commercial fuel tank storage facilities are engineered so that any flames that occur are vented upward into the air, rather than blowing out the tank walls, he said.
Mike Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant quoted by the Review-Journal, agreed with that assessment.
“A machine gun is not going to blow up a tank of fuel,” Boyd said. “Jet fuel itself sitting there in a big wet pile is very hard to ignite. You have to be a very amateur terrorist to think anything like that.”
As a precaution, however, the tank was being drained and will be reinspected and repaired, the airport said in a statement. The tank, penetrated by one round and a second round lodged in its outer skin, was partially filled at the time.
Police and federal authorities investigating Sunday night’s carnage, which ranks as the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, were not immediately available to comment on the gunshots that struck the fuel tank.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay)