Terrifying: United Airlines 777 Suffers MAJOR Engine Failure

Filed Under: United

While aircraft engine failures happen all the time (I’ve experienced a couple over the years), a United Airlines 777 suffered a major engine failure today that is sure to make national headlines, and will terrify just about anyone.

UA328 was scheduled to operate today from Denver to Honolulu. The plane had 241 people onboard, including 231 passengers and 10 crew members.

However, as the 777 climbed through 13,000 feet it suffered issues with its right engine. Below is a video of what passengers saw inside the cabin.

On the ground, people describe hearing a loud boom, and then seeing debris falling from the sky. Some significant chunks of the right engine even fell to the ground, near Broomfield, which is northwest of Denver.

In some cases the debris just barely missed houses…

…while in at least one case it went through the roof of a house, with one person saying they were just two feet away from the impact area, while making a sandwich.

Below is the ATC audio of the incident. This really gives you a sense of just how much the pilots were dealing with, and you can even hear (what sounds like) the master caution alarm going off in the background. “Mayday, mayday, United, uh, 28… United 328 heavy, mayday, mayday, aircraft, uh…”

As you can hear, the crew declared a “mayday,” which is reserved for life threatening emergencies. “Pan” is used for situations where help is needed, but there’s no immediate risk. Given the severity of this situation, it’s no surprise that the crew went with mayday.

The plane ended up spending just under 25 minutes in the air, before safely landing back in Denver (though not quite in one piece).

Below is video footage from inside the plane as it touches down in Denver, where you can hear passengers cheering.

The plane involved in the incident had the registration code N772UA. This was only the fifth Boeing 777 ever produced. The plane joined United’s fleet 26 years ago, as the ninth 777 in the carrier’s fleet (it only joined a bit later because it was being used as a test frame for Boeing). That shouldn’t in any way impact the safety of the plane assuming it’s well maintained, but I always like to note the history of planes nonetheless.

At this point it’s too early to know what caused this, though the NTSB has already opened an investigation into the incident, so we should learn more eventually.

What a terrifying incident. Huge kudos to the pilots for getting this plane safely back onto the ground with no one being injured (both in the air and on the ground). Also, what an amazing testament to how well planes are built, as the plane performed exactly as it was supposed to when things went wrong.

It seems like this could have ended very differently, especially when you see engine parts landing in neighborhoods.

  1. Those poor first class passengers. First they are traumatized by prospect of 7 hours in the worst first class cabin in the sky and then, well, you know.

    Seriously happy everyone is fine.

  2. This is going to sound like a dumb question, but how does this happen? I get that things go wrong in any aspect of life and of course there are freak accidents every now and again, but these engines are supposed to be thoroughly checked by maintenance before each flight (please correct me if I’m wrong). Failure by the maintenance crew has to be the answer here, right?

  3. ” You can hear the fear and shock in the pilot’s voice, as he’s almost at a loss of words about the situation.”

    perception differs

  4. I didn’t sense any fear or shock in the pilot’s calls. Considering what was going on in the cockpit at the time I thought he handled the situation well. It sounded like the engine fire warning was going off too. They had their hands full.

  5. Anyone know if this was the same plane that operated IAH-DEN on 2/7 or DEN-IAH on 2/8 ? Asking for an avgeek.

    @Ryan I liked the old school first class seats but depends on where you are seated in the cabin. Backwards middle row would have been less favorable

  6. Fear and shock?

    More like distractions as the EICAS is loading up with messages one after the other all while the airplane is probably violently shaking making it hard to read all of the messages. And also seeing the terrain on their MFD’s starting to glow red with the Rockies getting closer and climb performance degraded.

    Mayday is what we are trained to say to get immediate attention and priority from ATC in an emergency situation such as this. PAN-PAN is not appropriate phraseology.

    Stop trying to act like you know more than the average traveler blogger about what we do up front during emergencies. These pilots did a fantastic job.

  7. Was most likely engineered by the legendary mind of Duck Bupkiss and the coordinated brain trust with Debit. Sad to see one of my favorite travel blogs head more and more down the line of sensationalism- kudos to (as usual) amazing pilots flying for United. I’d take an older bird with experienced crews than a shiny A380 with showers and those building up hours

  8. It did what it was designed to do, land safely with one engine. Glad no one was hurt. A 26 year old 777? ya, I got money that this is likely a maintenance failure in the rotating infrastructure.

  9. Terrifying? Maybe/probably if you were onboard.
    (or if those people on the ground who have engine cowling raining on their heads)

    But otherwise looks like an excellent example of the overall safety air travel / commercial airplanes.

    Uncontained engine failure. Safe landing. No one injured. Great demonstration of how safe air travel is. Not terrifying, just the opposite. Reassuring.

  10. @D3Kingg This aircraft, N772UA, IS infact the same aircraft that flew the IAH-DEN round-trip on 2/7 & 2/8.

  11. Upside, nobody died.
    Downside, most of them won’t qualify for pre-travel entry into Hawaii if they are beyond the 72 hour testing window.

  12. Guys, “Terrifying” is the operative word in the post because with no one traveling and signing up for credit cards, Lucky’s revenue stream over the past year has likely been up in flames to about the same degree as the engine in the video, so it’s necessary to resort to sensationalism to drive clicks.

    Agree with @Bob that “Reassuring” would be much more appropriate.

  13. @Randy

    If they were over the ocean they would divert to their ETOPS suitable alternate as planned, in fact every overwater flight a twin makes has this as one of the ETOPS planning scenarios.

  14. Your statement that usually engine failures are pan-pan is incorrect. Unless it was an engine failure in a quad jet (exp. 747) and engine failure is basically always an emergency. You are flying a jet with one operating engine, you need to get on the ground quickly.

    Yes an engine failure is a routine emergency. The plane can still operate on one engine. But jts still an emergency

  15. All modern aircraft are designed to perform with one engine. (And in Mr. Sullenburger’s case, even with no engines.) Airline Pilots meticulously train for single engine operations every twelve months during annual training in the simulators.

    Rest assured, air travel is in safe hands.

  16. “Also, what an amazing testament to how well planes are built, as the plane performed exactly as it was supposed”

    Sounds a bit funny tho we still don’t know what’s the cause of the failure…

  17. @Peter, definitely too soon to make a statement that something maintenance related “…has to be the answer here, right?”

  18. Boeing planes are the safest in the world despite so much media attention lately. The 777 can fly on one engine safely as shown.

  19. @Peter: They are actually not checked before *every* flight. They’re usually checked on a set schedule based on the number of hours operated, unless a specific issue is reported. The maintenance intervals are set by the engine manufacturer based on extensive testing and modeling of the wear characteristics of the engine.

    In cases like these, the cause is often an undiscovered hairline fracture or other tiny defect that is not obvious to the naked eye and usually requires inspection with specialized equipment. And this often requires taking the engine apart. Major inspections on modern engines are usually done only every 1,000-4,000 hours of operation, depending on the type of inspection and the engine in question. Full rebuilds/refurbishments are generally done every 5,000-6,000 hours of operation.

  20. Different question – do they fully scrap the frame after this (given the age), or do they just repair/replace the engine?

  21. Amen for a safe landing and all souls on board . The entire crew deserves our respect . In this Covid world we live in let’s not jump in to make your assumptions. Leave that to the professionals .

  22. The airframe should be fine. they will just inspect and repair the pylon if needed, then replace the engine. The aircraft still has remaining life. Although with all the surplus aircraft right now, they may take another out of storage.

  23. That plane will be back in the air asap after a thorough inspection. The engine may have ingested a bird, a drone, Trumps hair piece or Bernie’s gloves.

  24. Y’all are being too tough on Lucky. I’m sure it was “terrifying” for every passenger onboard… half the plane usually seems “terrified” by everyday turbulence.

    I have to imagine it was nerve-wracking for the pilots as well. They’re well-trained executed perfectly, but this is not how you want to spend a day at the office.

    I dunno, maybe some pilot will comment that “#actually my job is only fun when something is on fire.”

  25. UA operated a replacement 772 to HNL later that day. Unfortunately the F seats were the same narrow, uncomfortable type.

  26. @ StevenE
    I am not sure it is that simple.
    Do they get permission and can they take off on one engine? I doubt that.
    They have to repair to get off that airport so the options are repair or pay parking forever. No, I don’t think they are equipped to scrap at the airport.

  27. For an un-contained engine failure, they were sure lucky that no pieces of engine hit fuselage.

    Maybe it was good that big chunks of outer cowling came off and fell mostly down as smaller pieces have tendency to bounce around a bit

  28. @Ben,

    No we aren’t being “too tough” on Lucky. He doesn’t need to write this piece in such a sensationalist manner and then act like he comprehends what the pilots are going through and what they should or shouldn’t be saying on the radios. He writes this piece like it’s in the New York Post.

    Present the facts/details and avoid the speculation and dramatic writing and I think all of his readers wouldn’t have anything to complain about.

  29. Truth be told, this unfolded EXACTLY as was planned to happen and is a (rare, these days) feather in the caps of Boeing and the engine manufacturer: Uncontained engine failures will happen (one tries to reduce the statistics but Zero doesn’t exist).

    Everything held remarkably well and apart from the ugliness of the insides of a crippled engine in full view. There is no inducation that in the case of a very long ETOPS flight, it would not have unfolded the same way even though the diversion airport might have been 3 hours away.

    Maintenance issue as suggested above, possibly, but it could just as well be a bird un-noticed at ingestion and taking time to damage the innards, or simply a case of “shit happens” .

    An AF A380 did worse over Greenland (or was it a 747-400?) 2-3 years ago, losing EVERYTHING, including the full nacelle), leaving the wing with a gaping “something missing there…”.

    Anyways, a very good job by the crew.

  30. The experience of seeing an engine on your aircraft explode in the air surely was terrifying for many of the passengers. One would expect the mindsets of the pilots and the passengers to differ. Also, having a piece of an engine fall through your roof and nearly hit you while you are making a sandwich must have been quite a shock. The terror really was worse on the ground than in the air.

    That being said, Lucky is probably of the cohort that considers the Capitol riot to have been a genuine threat to the federal government rather than a bunch of misguided LARPers gone mad.

    I think I rather would have enjoyed being on this flight. Mishaps of this sort, no matter how distant from real danger they might be, remind one to appreciate life.

  31. I read somewhere else that the one produced right before this one had the same engine failure….I’m not sure if true?

  32. @Alaska Rick, I’m pretty sure @Peter knows more than the NTSB so if he says its maintenance related, it probably is. He once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.

  33. Wow all of the people getting mad at the use of the word Terrifying…

    This is absolutely terrifying to most flyers, even frequent flyers. I bet some of them were trying to send last messages on their cell phones. The pilots were calm, but that just means they’re extremely professional and well trained, not that they might not actually be scared as well.

  34. Does not surprise me it’s United. I fly extensively for work but never United – not for many years. Too many stories from coworkers, friends, family, news. I’d pay double rather then choose United.

  35. Not sure who was trying to claim the pilot was at a loss for words. The call went out immediately and the pilot sounded just a bit surprised (anybody would be because its not a regular occurrence), but was speaking fine and immediately went about taking the proper steps. While certainly a serious event as soon as they shut the engine down it was a scenario that they train for and they calmly landed the plane and you can hear the calm in their voice. These planes are designed to keep flying on one engine. It looked like maybe a fan blade had broken off. There was some significant damage to the fuselage as well. While terrifying to passengers I doubt the pilots felt that they were about to die or anything. The people most at risk in this were the people on the ground who could have easily been killed if hit with debris.

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