Photo: Louis Nastro/Reuters
A United flight from Maui to San Francisco plunged to less than 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean shortly after takeoff in December, a near-miss and previously unreported safety incident revealed by an industry publication of airlines, The Air Current.
Analysis of flight tracking data showed that the Boeing 777-200 had reached an altitude of about 2,200 feet when it began a steep dive, descending at a rate of about 8,600 feet per minute. After falling below 775 feet, the flight gained altitude and traveled to San Francisco without further issue.
The blast occurred in heavy rain, lasted less than 45 seconds and was not mentioned in recordings of air traffic control radio calls reviewed by Airstream.
United “coordinate closely with the [Federal Aviation Administration] and [Air Line Pilots Association, International] regarding an investigation that ultimately led to the pilots receiving additional training”, United spokesman Josh Freed said in a statement to the Guardian about the incident. “Safety is always the highest priority.”
The pilots had a combined 25,000 hours of flight experience and were “fully cooperating” with the investigation, Freed added.
United’s close call came amid a turbulent period for the US airline industry. Also in December, a Hawaiian Airlines flight preparing to land in Honolulu experienced “great turmoil“. At least 36 people were injured on that flight, 20 were taken to hospital and 11 were listed in serious condition.
The storm system in question would cause a major winter storm across the continental United States, triggering a total disaster for Southwest Airlines, which canceled thousands of flights and left travelers stranded over the Christmas holiday weekend.
Two recent serious safety incidents have led to investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board.
In January, two planes at New York’s John F Kennedy airport nearly collided when an American Airlines plane crossed the runway ahead of a Delta plane accelerating for takeoff. The American Airlines pilots involved in that case refused to give recorded interviews to investigators, and were served with subpoenas trying to compel them to testify, the NTSB said in statement last week.
And last Sunday, two planes at Austin-Bergstrom international airport were missing when air traffic control cleared them to land and take off on the same runway at the same time.