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Airlines ground Boeing 777s after Honolulu-bound flight catches fire

DENVER, USA: Japan has grounded Boeing 777 jets, while the US will subject some to extra inspections after an engine of a Honolulu-bound Boeing jet caught fire.

The jet scattered debris over a residential area near Denver, Colorado, on Saturday (local time) as some terrified passengers held hands and prayed amid fears they were about to die while the engine burned outside their plane windows.

The United Airlines flight, with 231 passengers and 10 crew aboard, landed safely in Denver after its right engine failed.

The US plane manufacturer Boeing has recommended grounding dozens of its 777 aircraft around the world after one of the jets suffered an engine failure.

The plane, carrying 231 passengers, was forced to return to Denver airport on Saturday. No injuries were reported.

United Airlines has grounded 24 of its 777s, while Japan’s two main airlines have suspended 32 jets from use.

In total, Boeing said 128 aircraft with the same engine as the Denver plane should be grounded.

“While [an] investigation is ongoing, we recommended suspending operations of the 69 in-service and 59 in-storage 777 aircraft powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines,” the company said in a statement.

Pratt & Whitney said it had dispatched a team to work with investigators.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), United is the only US airline flying this model of 777, with the others being in Japan and South Korea.

United Flight 328, bound for Honolulu, suffered a failure in its right-hand engine, the FAA said. Debris from the jet was found scattered over a nearby residential area after it returned to Denver airport.

Dramatic images showed debris from the plane scattered on the ground and its engine in flames as it failed soon after the Boeing 777-200 had taken off.

“The plane started shaking violently, and we lost altitude and we started going down,” passenger David Delucia said.

“I thought we were done. I thought we were going down.”

Delucia and his wife stuffed their wallets into the pockets so they could be easily identified if the plane did crash.

But it didn’t. And there were no reports of injuries, either on the plane or the ground.

“The pilot did an amazing job. It was pretty unnerving,” Delucia said.

United said on Sunday it would voluntarily and temporarily remove its 24 active planes of the type from its schedule.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said it would inspect planes with the affected Pratt & Whitney 4000 engines.

Japan’s transport ministry went further, ordering Japan Airlines and ANA Holdings to suspend the use of 777s with P&W4000 engines while it considered additional measures, according to Reuters.

The ministry also reported another incident involving one of the planes. It said a Japan Airlines flight from Naha Airport to Tokyo International Airport on December 4, 2020, returned to Naha after an engine malfunction about 100 kilometres from the airport.

That plane was the same age as the 26-year-old United Airlines plane involved in Saturday’s incident.

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