The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that a maintenance log group will be formed to investigate the history of the Boeing 777 engine after it failed on United Airlines Flight 328 and burst into flames shortly after takeoff on Saturday.
“Our mission is to understand not only what happened, but also why it happened so that we can prevent it from happening again,” NTSB President Robert Sumwalt said at a news conference Monday night.
Sumwalt emphasized that the investigation is still in its preliminary stages. When asked if the particular engine had been inspected after another engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight in 2018, Sumwalt said that was a question that will be answered pending an investigation by the maintenance group.
Boeing recommended that airlines ground all 777s with the type of engine that exploded after takeoff from Denver last weekend, and most airlines flying those planes said they would temporarily withdraw them from service.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration ordered United Airlines to intensify inspections of the aircraft after one of its flights made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport on Saturday when pieces of the engine casing rained down on suburban neighborhoods. None of the 231 passengers or 10 crew members were injured and the flight landed safely, authorities said. United is one of the carriers that has grounded the planes.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson identified the focus on intensified inspections as hollow fan blades unique to the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engine model and used only on Boeing 777s. Dickson’s statement said the conclusion was based on a initial review of safety data and would likely mean grounding some aircraft.
Boeing said there were 69 of the 777s with Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines in service and another 59 in storage. The company said they should be punished until the FAA establishes an inspection regime.
Emergency landing is the latest issue for Boeing, which has seen its 737 Max jets grounded for more than a year after two fatal crashes in 2019 and is suffering amid the huge reduction in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic. . Max planes began returning to the skies late last year.
THE MAN FROM COLORADO DESCRIBES ‘CLOSE CALL’ AS A HUGE PIECE OF FLIGHT 328 JUST MISSES HOUSE
Video posted on Twitter about Saturday’s emergency showed that the engine was completely engulfed in flames as the plane flew. Freeze frames from different videos taken by a passenger sitting slightly in front of the engine and also posted on Twitter appeared to show a broken fan blade on the engine.
Passengers, who were heading to Honolulu, said they feared the plane would crash after an explosion and a flash of light, while people on the ground saw huge chunks of the aircraft falling, only missing a house and crushing a truck. The explosion, visible from the ground, left a trail of black smoke in the sky.
The NTSB said two of the engine’s fan blades were fractured and the rest of the fan blades “exhibited damage.” But he warned that it was too early to draw conclusions about what happened.
United says it will work closely with the FAA and the NTSB “to determine any additional steps that are necessary to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and are able to return to service.”
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The NTSB said the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were transported to its laboratory in Washington so the data can be analyzed. NTSB investigations can take up to a year or more, although in more important cases, the agency generally publishes some investigative material midway through the process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report..