It's a nervous flier's nightmare: When a piece of the plane comes off in flight. That's what happened on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Diego, which had to return to the airport minutes after takeoff on Monday when a piece of metal paneling broke away from an engine. Read on for eyewitness accounts and video of the incident, how passengers reacted, and what experts say could have caused it.
"Unusual Vibration" Reported
The flight "reported an unusual vibration on the left side of the aircraft soon after departure," Alaska Airlines said in a statement to CNN. "The aircraft returned to the airport and landed safely." The Boeing 737-900ER took off from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 7:36 a.m. local time and returned to the airport by 8:04 a.m. The airline said part of the cowling, a removable metal housing for the engine, detached from the plane. Keep reading to see the video.
Passenger Provides Eyewitness Account
Passenger Greg Anderson was on board Flight 558 on Monday and took photos showing the damage to the plane's left engine. He told CNN that after a normal takeoff, he "heard a little pop" and felt the plane start to vibrate. Anderson said he could see pieces of the cowling coming off.
"We slowed way down, then the captain came on and said he felt an 'unusual vibration,' and we were told he was looking for a place to land," said Anderson, who noted that more of the cowling came off as the plane was landing.
No Panic Aboard
Passenger Deanna Quiring told KING 5 News that she had a window seat on the flight and hoped to get some sleep but barely had time to close her eyes before the incident.
She saw the engine panel come off and said that passengers didn't panic. "I think the people in the back of the plane didn't even realize what was going on," she said.
No Injuries Resulted
There were 176 passengers and six crew members on board, and no one was injured, Alaska Airlines said in the statement.
"The two pilots who operated the flight have more than 32 years of combined flying experience," the statement said. "They, along with our flight attendants, handled the incident with tremendous professionalism and care."
Passengers on the flight were assigned to a different flight to San Diego, which departed about two and a half hours after they got back to the gate, the airline told CNN. Anderson said his alternate flight got to San Diego about 1:30 p.m.
Cause of Incident Unclear
According to the airline, the plane has been taken out of service while the National Transportation Safety Board investigates the cause of the incident. Scott Hamilton, an aviation consultant, told KING that cowlings could detach from any kind of plane. He said the investigation will likely look into whether there was some kind of mechanical failure or if the removable cover hadn't been properly latched down.