Passengers onboard United Airlines Flight 328 on Saturday probably would have settled for seeing a Twilight Zone-like creature sitting on the wing of their plane instead of the actual visual that appeared outside the window: the engine ablaze. After taking off from Denver International Airport, the plane’s engine failed and combusted. All 231 passengers on board the Boeing 777 aircraft, which was headed for Honolulu, were safe thanks to the pilot's quick maneuvering and emergency landing. But the incident has once again called into question the safety of Boeing's aircraft less than a year after the company's planes experienced a series of deadly crashes.
In response to the incident, Boeing has recommended grounding all models of the 777 aircraft that use the Pratt and Whitney 4000-112 engine, the same one that seemed to have experienced failure on the flight from Denver on Saturday afternoon. The Federal Aviation Administration also called for increased inspections for the planes.
According to Boeing, there are currently 69 of these planes in service and 59 in storage, totaling 128 jets that should be kept from the skis for the time being. In the United States, United is the only airline flying this particular model of the 777, and it operates 24 of them. The others are active largely in Japan and South Korea, according to BBC. The particular plane that was headed to Honolulu, the 7772UA, was the third-oldest 777 model still in operation and has been making flights across the country since 1994.
Details on what exactly went wrong are still coming in, and investigations from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are ongoing. But it appears that the Boeing 777 experienced an uncontained engine failure that resulted in pieces of the engine flying off the craft shortly after takeoff. Residents of Broomfield, Colorado, were on the receiving end of the catastrophic failure, as debris fell from the sky and into their yards and neighborhoods.
These types of engine failures have become disturbingly common for Boeing 777s. According to New York, the incident over the weekend was the third engine failure suffered by this particular model of aircraft in the last three years. In 2018, a Boeing 777 also on its way to Honolulu suffered a similar engine failure while the plane was making its descent. It landed safely, though the incident made for a bumpy final 45 minutes in the air. Another failure occurred on a 777 operated by Japan Airlines last year. Luckily, that plane was also able to land safely without further incident.
The latest incident occurred in the shadow of another major controversy for Boeing. In 2019, two Boeing 737 Max passenger planes were involved in fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, resulting in a total of 346 passenger deaths. The company was forced to ground those planes for more than a year as regulators looked into what went wrong and issued fixes for Boeing to address. The 737 Max was given the go-ahead to return to the skies earlier this year, though potential passengers have continued to express skepticism about boarding the planes. The images of engines falling apart on the 777 certainly aren’t going to restore that trust.