The crew of flight UA-328, the United Airlines Boeing 777-200, registration N772UA, performing a flight Denver to Honolulu in the United States with 231 passengers and 10 crew, was in the initial climb out of Denver’s runway 25 when the right hand engine’s (PW4077) inlet separated associated with the failure of the engine.
23 Minutes of Mid-air Madness
Mayday was declared as the crew reported an engine failure. The aircraft stopped its ascend at about 13,000 feet, while the crew requested Air Traffic Control (ATC) to allows them to make a return to Denver. ATC offered any runway, they would make it happen as the crew maintained calm as ran the checklists.
The aircraft returned to Denver for a safe landing on Runway 26 about 23 minutes after its departure. The aircraft was stopped on the runway for a check by emergency services.
Emergency services advised of an active fire within the right hand engine and extinguished the fire a few minutes later. The aircraft was subsequently towed off the runway to a remote parking stand, where passengers disembarked and were moved to the terminal. There were no injuries either in flight or on ground.
The engine inlet is believed to have separated and fallen off making its way into the neighbourhood of Broomfield, CO, located about 16nm west of Denver near 13th and Elmwood Street, the debris also struck through the roof of a house in the locality.
Broomfield police reported that although debris impacted the neighbourhood and damaged a number of homes, there were no injuries on the ground. The debris field expands over a nautical mile.
Ground observers reported hearing the sound of an explosion like bang, smoke and saw the debris falling down as the aircraft continued flying.
A ground observer was reported by avherald as saying: “I was walking home from lunch and heard a boom. I thought it might be a fighter going supersonic, but when I looked up I noticed a 2-engine commercial plane on a roughly west-bound heading. There was a fairly low cloud deck (maybe a few thousand feet) and he was just below it, so it was difficult to discern visual details, but I suddenly heard his engine noise go from silent to moderately loud (that might have been what made me notice him) – not sure if he applied power or if it was a trick of acoustics.”
The observer added that looking behind him, there was what looked like a large black puff of smoke (but it might have just been clouds). “Similarly, it looked like there was a thin trail of black smoke coming from the starboard engine, but again, it was hard to make out and might have just been a contrail.”
A United Airlines flight bound for Honolulu suffered a right-engine failure shortly after departing Denver International Airport, scattering debris on the ground, but returned safely to the airport, the FAA said https://t.co/hpkSCFwg3x pic.twitter.com/Va9gbaTWoW
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 21, 2021
“As he passed overhead the smoke trail seemed to go away. Once past me, he might have begun a turn to port (back towards the airport), but he vanished into the clouds so it was hard to tell. It looked like the aircraft was under control the whole time it was visible,” the observer was quoted as saying.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reported the aircraft experienced a right hand engine failure and is aware of debris on the ground along the flight path of the aircraft. The FAA as well as the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have opened investigations, the NTSB is leading the investigations.
— Matt Mauro (@mattmauronews) February 21, 2021
The NTSB stated they have opened an investigation into the occurrence, “Denver-based NTSB investigators are responding”.
Avherald, which gave a detailed report of the above incident said that on February 13, 2018 a fractured and separated fan blade had caused the engine inlet and cowl to separate from the right hand engine of B772 registration N773UA.
United Commends Crew Handling
In a statement, United said, “We commend the crew of United Flight 328 for safely returning to Denver after experiencing a significant uncontained engine failure. We are thankful for the tremendous teamwork shown by the entire flight and cabin crew, and that there were no injuries on the ground or in the air.”
The airline added that extremely rare engine failures like this prove there is no substitute for experience and that the most important aircraft safety system is two well-trained, highly skilled, professional pilots at the controls on the flight deck.
“Throughout this pandemic, we have never reduced safety margins. At United, no pilots were furloughed and we ensured that we kept our pilots qualified and proficient on our flight decks,” it said.