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Debris from damaged Boeing 777 rains down on Broomfield as plane makes emergency landing at Denver airport

Debris from a commercial jet rained down on Broomfield on Saturday afternoon after the airliner experienced an engine failure mid-flight and turned back to Denver International Airport, making an emergency landing.

The plane, a Boeing 777 wide-body airliner that was bound for Honolulu, Hawaii, experienced a right engine failure that resulted in large parts falling and loud booms heard by people on the ground in north suburban Denver, authorities said. A large ring from the engine of the United Airlines-operated plane landed in a front yard, and what appeared to be shards of the plane’s wing were found in Broomfield County Commons Park.

No injuries were reported, but sudden shock played out both aboard the plane, which carried more than 240 passengers and crew, and on the ground, more than 25 miles northwest of the airport.

“I can honestly say I thought we were going to die at one point — because we started dropping altitude right after the explosion,” passenger David Delucia, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, told The Denver Post. “I grabbed my wife’s hand and said, ‘We’re done.’ “

About that moment, air-traffic controllers heard the first report of trouble: “328, uh, heavy. We’ve experienced engine failure, need to turn. Mayday, mayday,” a pilot told them, according to a recording provided by LiveATC Audio Archive; the word “heavy” refers to the airliner’s large size. “United 328, heavy. Mayday, mayday, aircraft, uh …”

“Yes, 328 heavy, say again — read all that again,” the controller in the DIA tower replied, before they worked out the path for a return.

The flight had taken off from DIA at 12:49 p.m., according to online flight records, about a half-hour late. Delucia, 47, and his wife, Simona, were sitting on the left side of the plane.

He said the engine blew out on the other side when the flight was over the mountains. It took about 25 minutes to return to the airport, he said.

“Everything started shaking, like the worst turbulence you can imagine,” Delucia said, and it didn’t let up until they landed. “When we started to descend, we started going down through the clouds. People were saying that they were dumping fuel while it was going on. … We were getting information (from passengers) on the right side that it was on fire all the way ’til we landed.”

Delucia sent an in-flight video shot by another passenger to his stepdaughter, who posted it on Twitter. It shows the outer equipment and coverings of the engine missing, with a fire burning inside.

It was unclear Saturday afternoon what caused the explosion. The National Transportation Safety Board was expected to begin investigating immediately.

Debris landed most prominently in Broomfield, where the incident disrupted a quiet afternoon.

“I thought it was something that hit my roof, perhaps a small meteor,” said Mary Ellen Sucato, an 81-year-old resident who lives across from where the engine ring landed in the 1300 block of Elmwood Street.

Hundreds of people gathered to see what happened, with police detouring traffic away at a nearby intersection.

“My wife and I were sitting in the living room, reading the paper, when we heard a loud bang,’ ” recounted Kirby Klements, the homeowner, a couple hours later while standing in front of the engine ring, which was taller than him. “First, I thought it was debris from a trampoline from my neighbor’s yard. Came out and looked at it and knew right away that it was the front of an engine of an airplane.

When he looked for signs of an explosive crash, he saw only “a lot of debris raining down from the sky.”

Broomfield police said debris landed in Commons Park and in at least two neighborhoods.

“Remarkably, we have no injuries reported yet,” Rachel Welte, a spokeswoman for the police department, said during a mid-afternoon news conference, noting that many people were spending time outside on the warm, sunny day. “The biggest thing right now is that we are now securing the scene and all the debris for the NTSB.”

Welte asked that people who find debris not touch anything. Instead, call Broomfield police dispatch at 303-438-6400.

The crew of United Flight 328 “reported an engine issue” after takeoff, said Alex Renteria, a DIA spokeswoman. Denver firefighters based at the airport responded to the emergency landing about 1:35 p.m., said Capt. Greg Pixley, a fire department spokesman.

United said in a statement that the plane had 231 passengers and 10 crew members aboard, with no injuries reported.

Roy Divine of Madison, Wisconsin, was traveling to visit family in Hawaii. He didn’t see the engine explosion because he was sitting on the plane’s left side. But it still jolted him.

He said he didn’t realize the extent of the damage until he later saw pictures and videos on social media.

“I never for a minute thought we were going to die today — well, maybe that’s not fair,” he added. “Maybe I did briefly. I did text my kids. We weren’t that far away from the airport. We weren’t that high and I just had confidence, for whatever reason, it would work out.”

Ashly McGarity and her boyfriend, Skyler Jones, had a clearer view from their seats on the right side of the plane, toward the back. They said they had been excited to go to Hawaii. The couple flew from Philadelphia, where McGarity lives, and had a layover in Denver before they boarded Flight 328.

McGarity said she had been a little worried before takeoff because she saw a dark discoloration on a flap of the wing — it looked burned. She took photos of it.

The damaged right engine of a Boeing 777, taken by a passenger after an emergency landing at Denver International Airport on Feb 20, 2021.

Within minutes after takeoff, McGarity and Jones saw sparks flying outside, and Jones saw the explosion.

He and McGarity held each other and “prayed for the best,” he said.

Jones said it crossed his mind that they wouldn’t make it, but the way the crew members handled themselves and kept the passengers calm made him feel like they would be O.K., a point echoed by Divine. Jones texted his 13-year-old daughter immediately after they made it back to the airport.

“It was a scary experience,” McGarity said.

The couple was able to get rebooked on another flight to Honolulu for later in the evening. They decided they would stay an extra day in Hawaii to make up for what happened.

After the emergency landing, passengers were evacuated to the concourse to wait until another plane was available for the flight. Delucia spoke by phone from DIA’s Admirals Club, where passengers were taken to wait.

“What a crazy friggin’ experience,” he said. “It was nuts — absolutely nuts. And scary.”

United provided pizza and other snacks in the lounge. Despite the emergency that had unfolded, Divine said he would board the new flight Saturday evening.

Was he scared?

“Not a bit,” he said.

Source: Orange County Register

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