Passenger video shows flames shoot out of United Airlines engine midflight

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Passenger video shows flames shoot out of United Airlines engine midflight

Passengers aboard a United Airlines flight from Texas to Florida this week witnessed a terrifying sight midair: bright orange flames shooting out of the plane’s engine, prompting an emergency landing.

Jarring video taken by passengers aboard Monday’s United flight 1118 from Houston to Fort Myers shows a streak of flames spewing from what appears to be the left engine of the plane.

The flight’s crew reported an “engine issue” around 6:55 p.m. CST Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration said, about 20 minutes after takeoff, according to FlightAware data.

The plane — a Boeing 737-900 — safely returned to George H. Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston around 7:20 p.m.

United also described the ordeal as “an engine issue,” and said passengers were taken to a new aircraft, which departed for Fort Myers later that evening. 

While United and the FAA haven’t said what exactly caused the flames, the issue appears to be a compressor stall, which happens when there’s an airflow disruption in the engine. This can cause engine backfire, where fire spits out of the back of the engine, but doesn’t mean the engine itself is on fire.

Compressor stalls can be caused by a number of factors, including a foreign-object damage like bird strike, or a worn, dirty or contaminated compressor component. While it’s not a serious risk to the plane, pilots should get the plane on the ground after such an incident as soon as possible.

Passenger Elliot Trexler described hearing a loud noise while in the air. 

“This was a loud explosion. There was no question in any of our minds that something bad had happened. That combined with the plane nosediving and seeing the flames,” Trexler said in an interview aired Thursday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

Boeing does not provide the engines for its planes.

Still, the Monday incident is yet another flight snafu involving a Boeing aircraft, adding to the already heightened scrutiny of the massive aviation manufacturer after a Boeing-made Alaska Airlines plane door panel blew out midair over Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 5.

A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that bolts had not been installed on that door plug.

The incident prompted the FAA to temporarily ground all Boeing 737 Max 9 airplanes operating in the U.S. and subsequently increase oversight over Boeing aircraft production.

Since then, Boeing has ousted the head its 737 Max program in a management shake-up, passengers have filed a lawsuit against Boeing and Alaska Airlines for $1 billion in damages over the panel blow out, and on Wednesday the NTSB chair blasted Boeing before a Senate committee for failing to turn over records about that midair mishap. 

The FAA also recently gave Boeing 90 days to say how it will respond to quality control issues. It comes on the heels of a report by federal safety experts last month that found issues with Boeing’s safety culture even after changes were made to its structure after two Max 8 jet crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

Tom Costello

Tom Costello is an NBC News correspondent based in Washington, D.C.  

Marlene Lenthang

Breaking News Reporter

Jay Blackman

Jay Blackman is an NBC News producer covering such areas as transportation, space, medical and consumer issues.

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