On board UA flight 132 United Airlines flight 132 with 142 passengers onboard was forced to turn around shortly after takeoff from Honolulu International Airport earlier this week when the aircraft’s port-side engine began spewing flames.The engine compression unit caught fire, aborting the Sunday (Hawaii time) Island Hopper destined for Majuro and points west.
Over 20 Marshallese passengers had checked in with boxes, coolers, and luggage full of gifts for the graduation season in the RMI. But halfway through take-off, an abnormally loud bang went off and passengers sitting behind the left wing recorded the exact moment flames flared from the engine.
Passengers then heard the engine give out. Following a panicked silence and then reassurance from the flight attendants, the pilot announced that the flight was circling back to Honolulu due to engine failure.
A video from one of the passengers found its way to YouTube and Facebook, where it was featured by news media even while passengers were being rebooked on alternative flights as soon as flight 132 touched back down at Honolulu International Airport. Upon landing firetrucks were already waiting to cool down the brakes before the aircraft could taxi back to the gate to drop off the passengers who included RMI President Hilda Heine, Foreign Affairs Minister John Silk, and Internal Affairs Minister Amenta Matthew who were returning from a joint meeting with Palau and FSM presidents with US President Donald Trump. While being held in the gate, economy passengers were told to claim their baggage and continue to the front desk where United employees would help them rebook their flights and set them up with hotel and food vouchers. However, there were passengers who could not locate their luggage, and some were even grounded until the next available flight, which United officials said was June 2. With the Monday, Wednesday and Friday Island Hopper flights fully booked within the first several minutes, passengers waiting at the back of the line were redirected to United flight 201 that was heading for Guam less than an hour from then. Several Marshallese passengers commented that their tickets took a while to print out because the check-in kiosk workers were having difficulties with rebooking their flights.
One gentleman from Chuuk was sharply told to board the flight immediately while he was trying to check in his extra bags. Passengers whose tickets were printed a mere 15 minutes to boarding had to be taken through the TSA pre-check lane since all lanes were closed, and the only one open had a long, winding line with passengers flying to the Asia region.A quick transit through Guam airport took the passengers onboard United flight 2821 that flew to Chuuk and Pohnpei. On Pohnpei passengers continuing to Kosrae, Kwajalein, and Majuro were accommodated at Yvonne’s Hotel and Cliff Hotel when they touched down at 2 am Tuesday.“The total hours of traveling from Honolulu to Guam was approximately nine hours with the extra hour of delay and another additional four hours of island-hopping between Guam to Chuuk, then Chuuk to Pohnpei. A long way back home, but it was totally an experience,” commented University of Hawaii, Hilo senior Neilynn Domnick who has not been home to Laura village in Majuro since 2010.
Julia Alfred also commented that it was “an experience” and referred to the group as “survivors.”Carlina Gideon, who was traveling to Majuro with her high school-age daughter, recalls the incident and how her Chuukese seat mates cried out when they heard the bang.
“I am one of the passengers originating from Hilo,” Gideon said. “Thank the Lord because we remained under the protection of God.” She recounted, “At the time I entered the plane I went to my seat, it was right beside the wing of the plane. When I sat down, I opened my window shade and I smelled smoke and had a thought there may be something wrong, but the plane was already on its way to takeoff. But thank the Lord that even though the engine caught fire nothing bad happened.”Meldina Samson-deBrum who was also originating from Hilo added, “I give great thanks to the Lord because there was an issue with our plane. It was the first time I experienced it and I’ve only ever seen it on TV. When I sat in my seat and the incident took place, I bowed my head and prayed, although we did not know what the problem was. When the pilots talked about the engine failure and that we had to go back to Hawaii and land, I was very thankful that we were still over Hawaii. If it was between Hawaii and Marshall Island, I know we would have been in bigger trouble. So, we thank the Lord very much.”
Read more about this in the May 31, 2019 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.