A United Airlines flight bound for Hawaii was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after taking off from Denver after suffering major damage to one of its engines 15,000ft above ground and dropping huge pieces of debris over a neighborhood in Colorado as dramatic audio from the mayday call reveals the pilot asking air traffic control to immediately turn the aircraft around.
Video recorded by passengers aboard Flight UA328, which was carrying 231 travelers and 10 crew members, showed the engine on fire shortly after takeoff from Denver.
There were no reported injuries either on board or on the ground. One homeowner in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado said they were making a sandwich in their kitchen when debris crashed through their roof and landed just two feet away, according to KMGH-TV.
The Boeing 777-200, which was scheduled to fly to Honolulu in Hawaii, diverted back to Denver and landed safely at 1:30pm local time, about 30 minutes after takeoff.
‘Flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced an engine failure shortly after departure, returned safely to Denver and was met by emergency crews as a precaution. There are no reported injuries on board, and we will share more information as it becomes available,’ United spokesperson David Gonzalez said in a statement.
‘The FAA is aware of reports of debris in the vicinity of the airplane’s flight path. Please contact local officials and the airline for further information about the passengers,’ the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement.
The Broomfield Police Department posted photos on Twitter showing large, circular pieces of debris leaning against a house in the suburb about 25 miles north of Denver.
A United Airlines flight has made an emergency landing after dropping several pieces of debris in Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Flames could be seen coming from the engine of the plane
Pictures taken from ground showed the jet’s engine on fire and trailing smoke
Cops in Broomfield responded to reports of objects falling from the sky on Saturday afternoon and saw huge metal objects in front lawns
In this aerial view from a drone, people walk past a home with a hole in the roof from falling debris from an airplane engine in Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Police are asking that anyone injured come forward. One officer said it was a miracle nobody on the ground was hurt.
Huge pieces of the plane’s engine cowling could be seen littering the lawns of houses.
Additional debris was found scattered across turf field at Commons Park as well as the Northmoor and Red Leaf sections of Broomfield.
Kirby Klements was inside his home with his wife when they heard a huge booming sound, he said.
A few seconds later, the couple saw a massive piece of debris hurtle past their window and into the bed of Klements’ truck, crushing the cab and pushing the vehicle into the dirt.
He estimated the circular engine cowling at 15 feet in diameter.
Fine pieces of the fiberglass insulation used in the airplane engine fell from the sky ‘like ash’ for about 10 minutes, he said, and several large chunks of insulation landed in his backyard.
‘If it had been 10 feet different, it would have landed right on top of the house,’ he said in a phone interview with the AP.
‘And if anyone had been in the truck, they would have been dead.’
One local resident, Kieran Cain, told CNN he was with his children at a nearby elementary school when the aircraft flew over. Seconds later, they heard a loud explosion.
‘We saw it go over, we heard the big explosion, we looked up, there was black smoke in the sky,’ Cain told CNN.
‘Debris started raining down, which you know, sort of looked like it was floating down and not very heavy, but actually now looking at it, It’s giant metal pieces all over the place,’ he said.
‘I was surprised that the plane sort of continued on uninterrupted, without really altering its trajectory or doing anything,’ he said.
‘It just kind of kept going the way it was going as if nothing happened.’
Cain told CNN he and his kids took shelter under an overhang as the debris came down.
‘I’m honestly shocked looking at this debris field and how busy Commons Park is,’ Rachel Welte of the Broomfield Police Department told KMGH-TV.
‘This is a very popular spot in Broomfield. We have the dog park, we have the turf field, there’s playgrounds.
Pieces of the aircraft landed on a football field as seen in the above image posted to Twitter by a local resident in Broomfield
Police in Broomfield released this photo showing debris from the United Airlines aircraft strewn across a football field
Pieces of debris are seen above on a local football field in Broomfield, Colorado – a suburb located 25 miles north of Denver
A piece of the aircraft is seen above near a residence in the Denver suburb of Broomfield on Saturday afternoon
More debris is seen above on a turf football field at Commons Park in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Another piece of debris from the Boeing 777 that suffered engine failure over Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday is seen above at Commons Park
The aerial image above shows a piece of an airplane that fell from United Flight 328 sitting in the median of Sheridan Boulevard in Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
The same piece of debris is seen above from another angle in this photo taken by a drone in Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
‘This park on a day like today when it’s not as cold like it was last weekend, we could have hundreds of people here.
‘And the fact that we are still not getting reports of any injuries is absolutely shocking to me at this point.’
Pictures taken from the ground show the jet’s engine on fire and trailing smoke.
One man who said he was a passenger on the flight tweeted: ‘I’m on #UA328, pilots did an amazing job because it was loud, shaking, and scary as hell back here. Fire crews have us out on the tarmac.’
Audio of the pilot’s distress mayday call to air traffic control was released on Saturday.
‘Three twenty eight, heavy, experienced engine failure. We need to turn,’ the pilot is heard telling the air traffic control operator back in Denver.
‘Mayday, mayday, United 328…Heavy…Mayday mayday…Aircraft just experienced engine failure, need to turn immediately,’ the pilot says.
The air traffic controller than guides the pilot on where to turn in order to land the plane back safely.
Pieces of an airplane engine are seen above in a residential neighborhood of the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Neighbors gather on the lawn next to the home of Kirby Klements after a piece of debris crushed the man’s pickup truck parked next to his home in Broomfield
A local resident of Broomfield walks her dog next to a piece of airplane debris on Saturday afternoon
A local resident of the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado rides his bicycle past a piece of airplane debris on Saturday
A piece of debris from a commercial airplane is surrounded by police tape on a strip along Midway Boulevard in Broomfield on Saturday
A piece of debris from the United Airlines plane is seen above on a lawn in the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Authorities put up yellow tape around a piece of debris that landed in a residential neighborhood of the Denver suburb of Broomfield, Colorado on Saturday
Additional debris was found scattered across turf field at Commons Park
The image above shows smoke emanating from the damaged engine on the left
The image above was taken by a passenger on board. It shows the damaged engine as seen from inside the cabin
Video posted to social media shows the moment the plane landed. The passengers on board erupted in applause as the plane touched down in Denver for its emergency landing
Flight Aware tracking of Flight UA328 shows the plane circle back to land at Denver airport
Chris Vanderveen said the passengers on board the plane cheered when they touched back down after experiencing ‘engine issues’.
Police are working to locate all the debris, and urged people not to move any wreckage they found, pending the arrival of officials from the National Transportation Safety Board.
Tyler Thal, who lives in the area, told The Associated Press that he was out for a walk with his family when he noticed a large commercial plane flying unusually low and took out his phone to film it.
‘While I was looking at it, I saw an explosion and then the cloud of smoke and some debris falling from it. It was just like a speck in the sky and as I’m watching that, I’m telling my family what I just saw and then we heard the explosion,’ he said in a phone interview.
‘The plane just kind of continued on and we didn’t see it after that.’
Thal was relieved to learn later that the plane had made a safe landing.
Video posted on Twitter by a woman who said she was the daughter of people aboard the flight showed the engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane flew through the air.
Tyler Thal, who lives in the area, told The Associated Press that he was out for a walk with his family when he noticed a large commercial plane flying unusually low and took out his phone to film it
‘While I was looking at it, I saw an explosion and then the cloud of smoke and some debris falling from it. It was just like a speck in the sky and as I’m watching that, I’m telling my family what I just saw and then we heard the explosion,’ he said in a phone interview
The image above shows smoke from the plane on the left-hand side as captured by Thal’s cell phone
Another local resident captured this image showing pieces of debris come off the plane and fall toward the ground in Broomfield in Saturday
Two passengers who were on board the plane, Sonny and Kelly Glidden, told KDVR-TV that they could see the engine explode and even felt the heat from inside the cabin.
The couple was seated three rows back from the right wing, according to reporter Courtney Fromm.
Kelly told KDVR-TV that in the immediately aftermath of the explosion, she and her husband looked at each other, held hands and said their prayers.
Kelly said the passengers and crew on board remained calm throughout the ordeal.
The couple praised the pilot for his handling of the emergency.
As soon as the landed, Kelly said she texted family and friends, writing: ‘WE ARE SAFE.’
The couple isn’t giving up on their plans to go to Hawaii. Despite obvious nerves, Kelly said she and her husband will board another flight out of Denver to Honolulu.
This will be their first trip to Hawaii and they plan on making the most out of it, she said.
Aviation safety experts said the plane appeared to have suffered an uncontained and catastrophic engine failure.
Such an event is extremely rare and happens when huge spinning discs inside the engine suffer some sort of failure and breach the armored casing around the engine that is designed to contain the damage, said John Cox, an aviation safety expert and retired airline pilot who runs an aviation safety consulting firm called Safety Operating Systems.
‘That unbalanced disk has a lot of force in it, and it´s spinning at several thousand rotations per minute … and when you have that much centrifugal force, it has to go somewhere,’ he said in a phone interview.
Pilots practice how to deal with such an event frequently and would have immediately shut off anything flammable in the engine, including fuel and hydraulic fluid, using a single switch, Cox said.
Former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall called the incident another example of ‘cracks in our culture in aviation safety (that) need to be addressed.’
Hall, who was on the board from 1994 to 2001, has criticized the FAA over the past decade as ‘drifting toward letting the manufacturers provide the aviation oversight that the public was paying for.’
That goes especially for Boeing, he said.
Despite the scary appearance of a flaming engine, most such incidents don’t result in loss of life, Cox said.
The last fatality on a US airline flight involved such an engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas in April 2018.
A passenger was killed when the engine disintegrated more than 30,000 feet above Pennsylvania and debris struck the plane, breaking the window next to her seat.
She was forced halfway out the window before other passengers pulled her back inside.
In that case, the breakdown was blamed on a broken fan blade in an engine of the Boeing 737.
The FAA ordered airlines to step up inspections of fan blades on certain engines made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran S.A.
In 2010, a Qantas Airbus A380 suffered a frightening uncontained engine failure shortly after takeoff from Singapore.
Shrapnel from the engine damaged critical systems on the plane, but pilots were able to land safely. The incident was blamed on the faulty manufacturing of a pipe in the Rolls Royce engine.
‘The flames scare the hell out of everybody. But they are the least of the problem because you’re going to get them put out and you’re going to shut off everything that can burn,’ Cox said.