Yesterday’s engine failure onboard United Airlines’ Denver to Honolulu flight 328 caused us to think about Hawaii airline safety and prior events. After all, once you get out over the Pacific (which this plane was not yet), you can be 2 1/2 hours or more from the nearest point of landing. The situation is serious enough that United has just grounded that fleet of 777-200 aircraft.
In the latest (February 21, 2021) headline event, the 26-year old Boeing 777-200’s PW4077 engine explosion was apparently what is considered the most dangerous “uncontained failure” type. That according to a former NTSB member, who reported that parts of the engine were not contained and exited the motor, thus potentially endangering the wing and fuselage. The last strangely similar incident on a Hawaii flight happened just three years ago.
Yesterday’s problem manifested soon after takeoff, and the plane made an emergency landing less than 1/2 hour after departure from Denver. Videos like the Twitter one below showed flames emanating from the engine’s mid and rear sections.
Passengers were told to brace, and thankfully, the plane landed uneventfully. The incident occurred at about 23k feet on the climb out for what would otherwise have been an uneventful 7-hour flight to Honolulu. That was when the pilot announced, “We experienced engine failure. We need to turn… Mayday. Mayday, United 328 heavy just experienced an engine failure, we need to turn immediately.” Air traffic controllers aided the failed plane, both clearing an immediate descent and offering the airport, saying, “You can have any runway you like.”
— michaela🦋 (@michaelagiulia) February 20, 2021
Today, United Airlines said it will temporarily ground its 24-plane fleet of Boeing 777-200 aircraft that are powered by PW4000 engines. Generally, Boeing 777 is considered one of the world’s safest aircraft. Less than 1/2% of the nearly 1,500 produced have been involved in accidents or other problems that were beyond repair.
Prior earily similar UAL Flight 1175 Hawaii bound plane incident.
In February 2018, another UAL 777 had an issue that appeared to be very much like yesterday’s problem. The plane in the 2018 accident also went into the service in 1994 and was of the same aircraft and engine type. In that situation, the plane was indeed dangerously mid-Pacific when the engine failed.
UAL Flight 1175, with 373 passengers and crew on-board, was inbound to Honolulu from San Francisco, less than an hour away from landing. The plane shook violently, and loose metal and bolts flapped against the plane as oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.
Later, the NTSB said the failure was caused by “a full-length fan blade fracture.” Further, NTSD indicated that the manufacturer had not noticed blade fractures during their prior routine maintenance inspection.
UAL 811 mid-air incident.
United 811 suffered a cargo door failure in February 1989 en route from Honolulu to Auckland. The 747-100 experienced explosive decompression that ejected rows of seats that caused the deaths of 9 passengers. It landed safely again in Honolulu.
Aloha Airlines flight 243.
Perhaps the most well-known Hawaii aviation incent occurred in 1988. As you recall, flight 243 suffered a catastrophic fatigue failure. En route from Hilo to Honolulu, the Boeing 737-200 suffered extensive damage when an explosive decompression happened mid-flight. It nonetheless landed safely on Maui. There was one fatality, a flight attendant who was ejected, while an additional 65 passengers and crew were injured. It was an important event and had a significant impact on aviation safety procedures that followed.
Hawaiian Airlines 2000 runway incident.
Hawaiian is considered among the safest airlines and has never experienced a fatal accident or a hull loss. Nonetheless, in 2000, a Hawaiian legacy DC-10 aircraft en route from Honolulu to Papeete overran the runway at Faa’a on landing. A subsequent investigation indicated it was caused by an incorrect aircraft landing configuration while landing in a thunderstorm. There were no fatalities.
Canadian Pacific fatal crash.
A Canadian Pacific turbo-prop crashed and burned during an emergency landing at Honolulu in 1962. 27 were killed while 13 others survived. The plane, bound for Nadi and Sydney, attempted the fatal return to HNL just 20 minutes into the flight. The aircraft crashed into equipment at the airport which resulted in an explosion.
Pan Am Hawaii-bound flight accidents.
PAA flight 7 crashed into the Pacific en route from San Francisco to Honolulu in 1957. All 44 passengers and crew died aboard the luxury Boeing Stratocruiser, which was on an around-the-world voyage. The cause of the crash was never proven, but theories included fire, equipment failure, and sabotage.
PAA flight 6 was also on an around-the-world mission when it ditched in the Pacific in October 1956, after two of four engines failed on its planned flight to San Francisco. The plane sank but the 31 on-board were rescued. It was the basis of a later film.