Sonny Glidden, 50, heard one of the engines of the Boeing 777 explode about 10 to 15 minutes after the United Airlines flight took off from Denver International Airport for Honolulu on Saturday.
The plane had climbed to about 10,000 feet.
“There was a loud boom and a flash … ,” he said. “I knew right away it was the engine.”
Glidden, an electrical engineer, and his 49-year-old wife Kelly, a nurse, were on their way to Honolulu for a week-long vacation. They had planned the trip for about six weeks. It would be their first time seeing the island state, but getting there would turn into a terrifying experience. They left the Indianapolis International Airport and landed in Denver for a connecting flight.
But, a United Airlines spokesman said the connector aircraft — United Flight 328 — experienced an engine failure shortly after takeoff, sending debris and sparks dropping from the plane. 231 passengers and 10 crew members were on board.
Glidden was seated with his wife Kelly. The couple, from Trafalgar in Johnson County, were about about three rows behind the wing.
“From where we were sitting, we really couldn’t see much but we could see sparks and smoke out of the window,” Glidden said. “The plane was shaking quite a bit. It was a turbulent takeoff anyway and then it just got notched up another level.”
According to reports, debris fell from the plane. Police in Broomfield, Colorado, said on Twitter that it had gotten reports of debris falling on several neighborhoods around 1 p.m. Pictures posted to the agency’s account show a large, circular part of the plane against a house.
The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation.
The Federal Aviation Administration said late Sunday that administrator Steve Dickson, the agency’s head, ordered “immediate or stepped-up inspections of Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with certain Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines” after United Flight 328’s engine failure. Some planes would likely be removed from service.
Broomfield police asked residents not to touch any debris that fell from the sky. Onboard the plane, Glidden and his wife Kelly held hands. He said the passengers remained calm.