We’ve seen a shocking number of near miss incidents in the airline industry lately, both on the ground and in the air. The Air Current reports on a close call that happened several weeks back, but which hasn’t been reported until now.
In this post:
United 777 dives to 775 feet above Pacific Ocean
On December 18, 2022, United Airlines flight UA1722 was scheduled to operate from Maui (OGG) to San Francisco (SFO) with a 22-year-old Boeing 777-200 that had the registration code N212UA.
The plane took off at 2:49PM, and according to flight tracking from Flightradar24, it climbed to around 2,200 feet. At that point the plane began a steep dive, descending at nearly 8,600 feet per minute, which would have produced forces of nearly 2.7x the force of gravity. The plane descended down to under 775 feet above sea level.
To state the obvious, if the plane had continued descending at that rate, it would have lost those remaining 775 feet of altitude in just over five seconds — talk about a close call!
The entire incident lasted for no more than 45 seconds, and it’s not clear if air traffic controllers even realized what happened, as there was no ATC audio recorded regarding the incident.
Once the pilots managed to recover from the incident, they safely climbed to 33,000 feet, and continued to San Francisco in a flight time of 4hr15min, arriving 27 minutes ahead of schedule.
While we don’t know what exactly caused this incident, we do know that weather conditions in the area weren’t good. There was a flash flood warning that day in Maui County, with clouds broken above 900 feet. Furthermore, this incident happened the same day that a Honolulu-bound Hawaiian Airlines A330 hit severe turbulence on approach, causing dozens of injuries.
Upon landing in San Francisco, a safety report was filed by pilots, and the aircraft was inspect before its next flight. United then coordinated with the FAA and ALPA, and the pilots ultimately ended up receiving additional training.
The pilots deserve credit of course for proactively reporting the incident. The two pilots allegedly had a combined 25,000+ hours of experience. Since more information isn’t being made available about the investigation into the incident, it’s anyone’s guess if actions by the pilots saved the aircraft from disaster, or may have contributed to what happened (or maybe a little bit of both).
The surprising part about this incident
What’s most surprising to me about this situation is that it didn’t get any attention until The Air Current broke the story nearly two months later. The flight was operated by a 364-seat jet, and this must have been absolutely terrifying for passengers. Even if it was just brief, to descend at nearly 8,600 feet per minute just moments after takeoff in bad weather is surely sometimes people in the cabin would have felt.
In the age of social media and everyone having a smartphone, it seems like everything that happens on planes and at airports ends up being reported.
One has to wonder if (for whatever reason) it just didn’t feel that bad in the cabin, if everything just happened so quickly, or what?
Unfortunately this is just the latest in a slew of incidents. Several days ago, we learned about how a Qatar Airways Boeing 787-9 entered a steep descent after taking off from Doha, as one of the pilots reportedly lost situational awareness. The plane descended all the way down to 850 feet, though in that case weather conditions were quite good, making the incident especially puzzling.
Meanwhile we’ve also seen two concerning ground incidents in the United States in recent weeks — one between an American 777 and Delta 737 in New York, and one between a Southwest 737 and FedEx 767 in Austin.
On December 18, a United Airlines Boeing 777 dived toward the Pacific Ocean just shortly after takeoff. The plane briefly descended at nearly 8,600 feet per minute, down to an altitude of under 775 feet.
Weather conditions were awful at the time of the incident, and this was also the same day that a Hawaiian Airlines A330 encountered severe turbulence enroute to Honolulu, leading to dozens of injuries.
The pilots ended up reporting the incident, and received some additional training. We don’t have any details beyond that, though, regarding the cause of what happened.
What do you make of this United incident?