Whew, that was close

By now you’ve probably heard about the United Airlines plane that suffered an engine failure over Broomfield, Colo., yesterday afternoon and dropped debris on the city.

Not long after that first report, I found a map of the plane’s flight path out of and back to Denver International Airport. It seems it passed almost directly over my house in north Thornton (at best one block north of me) as it headed west. It was only about a minute later that its right engine failed and started dropping debris over Broomfield, including the Broomfield Commons open space, 7 miles due west of here. Two or three years ago my grandson would have been playing soccer there.

Amazingly, there was not a single injury either on the plane or on the ground. The pilots remained calm (don’t they always?), radioed a mayday, and returned to the airport on their one remaining engine.

A bit unnerving, to say the least. I noticed air traffic when I first moved here about 12 years ago, but in recent years only low-flying helicopters have been obvious. Planes westbound from DIA have to climb fast due to noise abatement rules and because they have to get over the Rocky Mountains.

A New York Times story at one point said Broomfield was a Boulder suburb, but obviously that isn’t accurate. They are separate cities, as is seen on this map. I see the story has since been corrected (because I sent a note to the author?), but not the caption on the accompanying video. (I tend to get annoyed when a news source gets its geography wrong when all they had to do was look at a map.)

But all’s well that ends well. The flight was bound for Honolulu, and an engine failure over the ocean might have ended differently. On the ground, one house suffered a punctured roof, and the engine’s front cowling smashed into a man’s truck before stopping within a few feet of his front door. Does auto and home insurance cover stuff falling from the sky?

It’s not obvious here, but this debris hit the truck before coming to rest in the yard. (Broomfield Police Department)
Kirby Klements examines the damage to his truck. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

See follow-up stories at the Denver Post website.

33 thoughts on “Whew, that was close

  1. The one expert I saw commenting on this speculated that the cause might be metal fatigue or stress-cracking of rotor blades. When I was working on aerospace batteries that had inconel pressure vessels (up to 1,000 psi), cracking was a major concern. Finding cracks was difficult, and about as much art as science (dye penetrant and X-rays.) On the other hand, it could have been a bird strike or even an encounter with a drone. Wouldn’t surprise me.

    1. I saw one expert saying they had to find the rotor blade(s) that failed. I wish them luck with that. Debris is spread over a fairly large area and police are having to stop people from walking away with “souvenirs.” I’m sure NTSB will want every bit of that engine. Another expert pointed out that the most stress those engines ever endure is during takeoff and climb out. That would be the optimum time for metal fatigue to finally fail.

      Drones have certainly proven useful in many situations — but when operated by officials for official reasons. I still think everyday civilians shouldn’t be allowed to have them (of course that ship sailed years ago); so many of those people are irresponsible.

  2. Yes, that was a bit close to you – gotta hope this is an anomaly with the engine failure, rather than a wider problem developing. I confess, when the photo was first posted, i looked for the striped stockings and ruby slippers indicating the WWE – then realized it was real. You mentioned the pilot remaining calm – they train many hours to fly those aircraft under emergency conditions – glad they had good ones in control this time! (and shout out to the controllers who quickly coordinated the emergency through Denver’s busy airspace back to a safe landing).

    1. Yep, I imagine air traffic is very heavy around DIA, especially on weekends. Fortunately we had good, clear weather instead of a big storm, and the wind didn’t kick up until later in the day. I could never be a pilot; calm in a crisis is not my forte. That’s one reason I have so much respect for pilots and controllers. I can’t even imagine being thousands of feet up, climbing hard to get over the mountains ahead, going hundreds of miles an hour, with several hundred souls on board — and losing an engine. Hats off to everyone involved.

    1. And of course his dad, sister, and I were there to watch him play. I’d have slept so much better without knowing there’s a flight path that goes right over my house. I went out of my way to avoid buying a house near airports and their approach and departure patterns. But things change. As Thornton grew to the north, flight paths were moved to the north to try to lessen the noise complaints. So here we are.

  3. I wondered how far the debris fall was to you. So glad that no one was hurt and no major damage. So so so lucky. Especially that it didn’t happen over the ocean. I saw the video shot by a passenger of the engine still running but in flames. I didn’t read the text with it – I thought it was something old, or some obscure flight/airlines. It wasn’t until later, yesterday evening, that I actually put 2 and 2 together with some tweets about it. Blew me away that was an engine on a United flight taken yesterday on a commercial flight just out of Denver. Everyone, but in air on on the ground, was so lucky.

    1. It’s a miracle that with everyone outside on a pretty afternoon, no one on the ground was hurt. A lot of the debris was big enough to have badly injured or killed someone. I feel like 2020 has overstayed its welcome.

  4. Very good, informative story. Saw picture online of the engine burning, taken through the passenger window. Having flown alot to holiday destinations in the past I am not sure how I would have felt looking out the window and seeing that. I know for sure my wife would panic and would never fly again. As soon as I saw it was in Colorado I wondered if you might have seen or heard of it. To go over just a block away though is pause for thought.

    1. Same as after the first. Sore arm for a day or two. Nothing more. I’ve heard younger people often have more reaction because their antibodies are a lot stronger. Or something like that. My son and daughter-in-law both felt fatigued and “not well” for a day or two after theirs.

  5. Just seen the pictures of the missing blade and broken blade on youtube. Apparently the engines are tested to withstand an engine blade accident and the cowl is nicked by the blade exiting the engine. The wind destroys the rest of the cowling. The plane is designed to run on one engine and can climb away from a take-off on one engine then orbit and land safely. Thought it might put your mind at rest.

    1. Thank you. I’m relieved that a.) the plane was designed to fly on one engine if necessary and b.) the pilots were trained to fly with just one engine. I wouldn’t have guessed it could climb out on just one engine, however. Planes are marvelous things.

  6. Whew – when I saw that – and recognized the area, I hoped you weren’t too close (maybe all those Duck and Cover drills in elementary school did have a purpose HAHA)
    Good to know which planes have a plan B if necessary. Pilots are amazing for sure.
    Please excuse the slow response to your comments and lack of viewing here – Sr. Staff is almost through with cancer treatments ( a reoccurrence in a different location…like Wack-a-miole) Been a bit busy and distracted…RC Cat appointed me as Service Animal HAHA

    1. Our little plane incident was nothing compared to what you were going through. I was so worried about all of you. And that was before your mention of recurring cancer. But then you seem to be a female Bear Grylls when it comes to surviving extreme weather.

      1. It’s winter. Better not blink for too long no matter where you are. Most things are back to normal – it’s back to warm (70+ today). I really feel bad for those stuck in old apartment complexes with out of state owners and those ancient people in old small wood frame houses – not built for that extreme weather. Many schools took a hit, too with the fire retardant systems bursting once the electricity was off. (And as it turns out, it was more about the plant owners not having backup emergency contracts so they had to buy natural gas on the open market at high prices than plants “freezing up…as Sr Staff says, yeah, some valves may freeze, but they pull up big heater on trucks and warm them hair blower style…it wasn’t the plants freezing, it was greed and not paying attention to warning.)
        My neighbor is still having repair work/leaks showing up over the past few days – probably damaging electrical stuff too now. Cruz may have left for warmer climates, but he was smart enough to leave someone/staff there to take care of the house. (and dog)
        SPCA and Humane society/.city were out looking for dogs being left out – either bring the dog in or surrender it to us immediately. Saved a lot of pets.
        So nice plumbers with trucks are full of repair pieces from out of state are arriving and doing work for free. This was a big hit for so many.
        Can you believe Daylight Savings time is almost here?
        I think we’re all looking forward to warm weather and getting out. (Waiting here for J&J vacine distribution – glad you are all set and ready to see those kids again!)

        1. We just had two days of near 70 degrees. Today we’re back into the 40s with rain/snow expected. Still trying to melt off all the snow we had a little while back, but we’ll take all the moisture we can get.

          I don’t doubt folks down there will be finding damage for weeks to come. Water has a way of sneaking into places you’d never expect and doing all kinds of unseen damage to plaster, wiring, etc.

          It took me several years here to realize I don’t have to leave cabinets open and faucets dripping every time there’s a freeze warning — as we always did in Oklahoma. So glad you got through it okay. I sat here one subzero night wondering what I’d do if the power went off. I have a gas fireplace but turned off the gas years ago because I never use it. I’d have had to get the gas back on, the pilot lit (don’t remember where it is) and then — oops — an electric switch to turn it on. You figured that out; I figured I was dead in the water.

          One organization recently brought in more than 100 dogs rescued in Texas during your blackout/freeze. Puppies, nursing moms, etc. So sad to think they were all abandoned or left outside to fend for themselves in that awful weather. They’ll be well cared for here. Amazes me how many dogs this state always manages to absorb from elsewhere.

          Daylight saving time, again, already? I just changed all my clocks the other day. Seems like. I’d love to just have it all year.

          So you don’t have vaccine yet? I would think the Houston area would be flooded with it. I’m several weeks past my second Moderna shot and my son just got his second Pfizer two days ago. So we’re getting pretty excited, although I think the governor is too anxious to open everything up again.

          1. There is plenty of the two dose vaccines – there are city, county, hospital/doctor clinic wait lists where you call in/log in to website, fill in info and location and they will match you…and contact you when it’s your turn. People wait for hours in cars at the big mega-vaccine/FEMA sites, all only for appointment only (but you are wise to show up hours earlier to get in line.) Since Jan we have had to commute an to get daily treatments and generally lose 3-4 hours round trip – so we are not able to line up and wait. Pretty soon CVS, Randalls/Albertsons/other pharmacies are getting the J&J. All close to home, so since that vaccine was identified as best for us, we’re on the look out for opening of signup.
            I know everyone in your family is excited. Once the vaccines are out and the hospitalization # down there, maybe you’ll be set free. CDC is saying small gatherings OK if all vaccinated. It’s the real science. Opening up is safer than many want to see- especially outdoors in warm weather! Backyards are good.
            We hope to be able to travel in a few weeks and headed that way. A grand daughter born a year ago we’ve never seen and her brother is desperate for us to come play and hike.
            I can’t wait to explore the Denver Botanical Garden – it sounds fabulous – pictures are fine, but wanna go!!!

        2. The snag here is the grandkids, ages 14 and 18. They are still doing their things with friends, school, and part-time job in food service. No vax for them yet, but lots of exposure. We aren’t sure how to deal with that.

          You mentioned cancer and I’m afraid to ask, but is that you, family member, or pet? Concern and well wishes, regardless.

          1. Husband who is tolerating treatment well so far – just exhausted and cranky. So far so good, but put a wrench into our moving plans. It is what it is. We hope the break during the winter storms mitigated. It’ll be a bit before we know how well it is working. (one reason no vaccine yet)
            Geesch. When did those kids get so old? Growing up so fast.
            They are doing vaccine trials on teenagers here. It sounds like they will be summer vaccines for them. Most of the school in this area are still going to do masks and basic cautions at least until end of year due to population density. That’s all Gov. Abbot did was tell counties, cities, schools – it’s your call – you guys are elected by your people. One size doesn’t fit all…Houston probably needs masks but rural areas like Elkart and Valley Mills don’t. Some restaurants and stores will still ask for masks. Some like Montgomery County and Hill country areas have been pretty much open the whole time. Local control and personal responsibility regained.
            Having said that, no one says you can’t wear a masks if you want…and we want to if around lots of people/indoors. The vaccine will be some added reassurance though.

        3. So sorry to hear about the huz, but treatment these days can do wonders. That daily trip for treatment gets to be an awful grind, I know, especially if you have to go very far. Give him my very best and know I’ll be sending positive vibes your way every day.

          Yep, been a year since I’ve seen my grandson, the 18-year-old, and he’s heading off to the Marines in Sept. I’ve lost a very valuable year with him still around. I was doing okay with putting everything on hold for Covid — until I realized exactly what I’d lost with him.

          1. Thanks for the healing thoughts
            Last year stole so much. Hard on the young and hard on us who realize there is a shelf life and watching time sliding past. So not what we had planned.
            You must be proud of grandson. He’ll have to stay in touch with email when he can. Meanwhile maybe he can get vaccine. Every minute will be treasured this summer.

        4. He works in fast food service, which qualifies him for vax late this month, if gov doesn’t change the classifications again. Yes, this summer will be precious time for all of us.

... and that's my two cents