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United Airlines Flight Suffers Engine Failure, Sending Debris Falling On Neighborhoods Outside Denver

A United Airlines flight returns to the airport as police receive reports of airplane debris in neighborhoods outside Denver. (Courtesy: Kieran Cain)

(CNN) — A United Airlines flight was forced to return to Denver International Airport Saturday after it suffered an engine failure shortly after takeoff, sending aircraft debris raining down on soccer fields, homes and yards in a Denver suburb.

United Flight 328 returned to the airport around 1:30 p.m. after suffering an engine issue, an airport spokesperson told CNN. The flight had been bound for Honolulu.

The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed in a statement that a Boeing 777-200 safely returned to the Denver International Airport after “experiencing a right-engine failure shortly after takeoff.”

“The FAA is aware of reports of debris in the vicinity of the airplane’s flight path,” the statement said.

The flight returned about 20 minutes after the police department in Broomfield, Colorado, said via Twitter that it had received reports that an airplane flying over the Denver suburb had engine trouble and had “dropped debris in several neighborhoods around 1:08 p.m.”

“No injuries reported at this time,” according to the tweet.

Additional tweets from police said debris landed in Commons Park and the Northmoor and Red Leaf neighborhoods of Broomfield. The city is about 25 miles north of Denver and 30 miles east of Denver International Airport.

United Airlines told CNN there were 241 people, including 10 crew members, aboard Flight 328. All passengers have safely deplaned and are at a terminal in Denver, where the airline is working to get them on a new flight.

“United Flight 328 experienced an engine failure and safely returned to Denver. We are in contact with the FAA, NTSB and local law enforcement,” United Airlines said in a statement. “The NTSB is investigating and has directed that any persons with debris from this event contact their local law enforcement agency.”

Pilots report ‘engine failure’ in mayday call

Pilots are heard issuing a mayday call, telling air traffic controllers “we’ve experienced engine failure,” according to air traffic control communications with Flight 328 obtained by CNN.

Police received calls from residents who said they’d heard a loud explosion, said Rachel Welte of the Broomfield Police Department at a Saturday news conference.

“Then they just started seeing basically what they thought was a plane falling from the sky. What it was was debris,” Welte said, describing the debris as “possibly some exterior pieces of the plane.”

Police are working to contain the secure the large debris field for the National Transportation Safety Board, which will be in charge of the investigation, according to the FAA.

“NTSB has opened an investigation into the Feb. 20, 2021, engine event on a United 777. Denver-based NTSB investigators are responding,” NTSB public affairs officer Peter Knudson told CNN.

In the meantime, Broomfield police cautioned residents to not touch or move plane debris if they see it in their yard as the NTSB “wants all debris to remain in place for investigation.”

‘Black smoke in the sky’

Kieran Cain told CNN he was playing with his children at a local elementary school when a plane flew over and they heard a loud boom.

“We saw it go over, we heard the big explosion, we looked up, there was black smoke in the sky,” Cain told CNN.

“Debris started raining down, which you know, sort of looked like it was floating down and not very heavy, but actually now looking at it, it’s giant metal pieces all over the place,” he said.

“I was surprised that the plane sort of continued on uninterrupted, without really altering its trajectory or doing anything,” he said. “It just kind of kept going the way it was going as if nothing happened.”

Cain said he and his children took shelter under an overhang as the debris came down.

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