HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Attorneys with expertise in airline accidents say the major engine failure aboard Honolulu-bound United Flight 328 on Saturday has been a recurring problem.
They said similar engine failures have occurred at least three times in recent years with the same Boeing 777 model, including a United Airlines flight to the islands three years ago.
“You can just imagine if this Denver flight had gotten 1,000 miles off the California coast, there’s a real chance that they wouldn’t have made it back,” said attorney Rick Fried, who has represented a number of passengers and crew members involved in airline accidents over the years.
“If this was the first time and they had no notice, but there is a long history.”
In 2018, Fried said a Honolulu-bound United flight from San Francisco ― with the same Boeing 777 model and with the same Pratt & Whitney engine ― suffered similar engine failure.
Two months ago, a Japan Airlines flight was forced to turn around after leaving Naha Airport in Okinawa after the blades in one of its engines were damaged.
And in 2015, a British Airways flight was also forced to land due to an uncontained engine failure.
All of these planes were older model Boeing 777s that were equipped with Pratt & Whitney engines, said Fried.
United has grounded this model and has called for further inspection. Boeing has also requested all other airlines to stop flying these planes while authorities investigate these jets.
Along with United, Fried said, Korean Air, Japan Airlines, All Nippon Airways and Asiana Airlines fly similar Boeing jets to Hawaii.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the United incident is focusing on how one of the fan blades on the engine broke off and destroyed the engine.
“A preliminary on-scene examination indicates damage consistent with metal fatigue,” said NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt.
New photos also show that Saturday’s engine explosion tore a large hole in the airplane’s fuselage shortly after take off.
“It’s pretty horrific and we’re just lucky as heck that this didn’t pop into the cockpit,” said Fried.
Usually when a jet engine fails, it’s due to a design flaw or inadequate maintenance. But in the case of the Pratt & Whitney engines, Fried says both are potential factors.
Fried said the metal shroud around Flight 328′s engine should have been strong enough to contain any explosion but it didn’t in this case.
He added that the blades on the engine aren’t inspected frequently enough to detect minor cracks, which can lead to engine failure.
“Basically Pratt and Whitney did not property train their maintenance personnel and their inspection protocol was inadequate to see these cracks,” said Fried.
In a statement, Pratt & Whitney says it’s working with the NTSB investigation.