On Saturday, residents of a Colorado suburb witnessed a scene straight out of a disaster movie: The sound of an explosion overhead followed by huge chunks of metal raining down from above.
Panicked, some worried their neighbourhood might be under attack, others wondered if some kind of UFO had just crashed down to Earth, the Denver Post reports. In reality, it was United Airlines flight 328, a Boeing 777-200 that experienced engine failure shortly after taking off from Denver International Airport.
Terrifying as the situation was (a video purportedly taken on the plane shows the engine burst into flames), by some miracle no one seems to have gotten hurt. The plane’s pilots managed to safely land back at the airport, and local authorities in Broomfield, Colorado, a city about 48 km to the west where debris from the plane lay scattered across several neighbourhoods, said Saturday that no injuries have been reported so far.
Pieces of the Plane Rained Down on Several Neighbourhoods
Local authorities closed off several streets to locate and collect the debris that fell from United Airlines flight 328. The flight departed around noon on Saturday headed for Honolulu, Hawaii, but its pilots issued a mayday call shortly after takeoff to report right-engine failure. The plane had just reached 1o,000 feet when passengers heard an explosion, CNN reports. Travis Loock, a passenger with a clear view of the engine from his seat, immediately knew something was wrong.
“There was a big boom and the kind of sound you don’t want to hear when you’re on the aeroplane,” Loock told the outlet. “And I instantly put my shade up, and I was pretty frightened to see that the engine on my side was missing.”
“A lot of people couldn’t see the engine on that side, right, so I was a little more freaked out because I could see it, and I knew that was not right,” he said.
By 1:30 p.m., the plane was safely back on the ground, and no injuries were reported among the 241 people on board, per CNN. First responders told a local CBS affiliate on Saturday they weren’t aware of any injuries on the ground either.
‘We Are Beyond Grateful That No One Was Injured’
The Broomfield Police Department tweeted that pieces of the plane landed in Commons Park and the Northmoor and Red Leaf neighbourhoods. A code red alert was sent out to roughly 1,400 residents in the area warning them that debris may have fallen in their yards, and to contact local authorities for an officer to come out and collect it.
“Given the number of people who are at Commons Park on a weekend day we are beyond grateful that no one was injured,” the department said.
‘It Is Literally Falling All Over the City’
On Sunday, the department shared a sampling of some of the 911 and radio calls authorities received during the incident as people scrambled to make sense of what was happening. “There are parts everywhere, it is literally falling over the city,” says one frantic voice on the line.
Broomfield police spokeswoman Rachel Welte told a local news outlet there were some reports of homes being damaged by the debris, the extent of which is still being determined.
So, What on Earth Happened?
Many questions about the incident remain unanswered, but federal authorities have begun an investigation. On Saturday, United Airlines issued the following statement:
“Flight 328 from Denver to Honolulu experienced an engine failure shortly after departure, returned safely to Denver and was met by emergency crews as a precaution. There are no reported injuries on board, and we will share more information as it becomes available.”
U.S. Federal Authorities Are Looking Into What Exactly Went Wrong
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is taking over the investigation, according to a statement from the Federal Aviation Administration, which also plans to assist in the case. Boeing said in a statement to CNN that its technical advisors are supporting the NTSB in its findings.
According to radar tracking data reviewed by CNN, the plane came down to a relatively low height of 3,962.40 m before making its journey back to the airport. Weirdly, United Airlines said the crew never opted to dump fuel, a standard procedure for most commercial airlines in the event of engine failure, the outlet reports. This is often a necessary step to make an emergency landing so soon after takeoff, as the plane may be too heavy to touch down safely.
A Truly Terrifying Scene
Besides the very clear physical fallout littered among neighbourhood lawns and streets, the incident seems to have shaken the community most of all.
“A lot of people said they heard that really loud explosion which startled a lot of people, and then they just started seeing basically what they thought was a plane falling from the sky,” Welte, the Broomfield Police Department rep, said.
Miraculously, No One Seems to Have Been Hurt
As horrifying as these images are, there’s some solace in knowing that no injuries have been reported so far, neither among those on board the flight nor the thousands of residents on the ground when chunks of a plane fell onto their neighbourhoods.
Additional details about what exactly went wrong should emerge in the coming weeks as federal authorities continue their investigation. In the meantime, I’m sure residents of Broomfield, Colorado, are at least somewhat thankful that the events of Saturday afternoon weren’t as devastating as what could have been.