Air France Boeing 777 Suffers Engine Failure During Atlanta Departure

An Air France Boeing 777 had to make an emergency landing at Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport on June 23rd, as it lost the use of its left-side engine just minutes after departure.

Air France 777
Air France engine fails 15 minutes after takeoff. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Air France flight AF-681 was scheduled to depart Atlanta Hartsfield for Paris Charles de Gaulle at 4.35pm EST Sunday afternoon. However, the flight was delayed for an hour and 12 minutes due to severe weather with lightning and hailstorms, which caused the airport to shut down for approximately an hour (TOTH to AJ for that info).

The Boeing 777-300 wide-body jet with 330 passengers and crew on-board was given clearance to take-off using runway 27R for the non-stop 8hr 25min hop across the Atlantic Ocean.

When did the engine fail?

Just 15 minutes into the flight, as the aircraft was still climbing, the captain declared a Mayday. He told the tower that he had suffered a complete failure to the aircraft’s left engine, a GE90 according to the Aviation Herald.

Air France GE90 engine fails: Photo: Air France

Now flying on just one engine, the pilot levelled the plane at 3,000 feet and requested permission to make a left turn and return to the airport, landing on the same runway he had just taken off from. Once it was determined that runway 27R was clear of debris, permission was given for the captain to make what they call a “hard landing“, as the pilot had no time to dump fuel.

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were in place waiting for the plane to land

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles were scrambled to meet the incoming disabled aircraft. Thankfully, they were not needed as the pilot did a textbook landing and even managed to taxi back to the gate.

Emergency vehicles were waiting for AF-681 to land.Photo: Air France

According to eturbonews, a passenger aboard American Airlines flight AA358 that was taking off at the same time as the Air France plane on an adjacent runway said he saw the engine on the Air France jet catch fire.

“I saw fire and smoke shoot from the left engine on their climb — the plane, then levelled off and began to appear to lose altitude. I took a photo of the aircraft shortly before I saw the fire and then I began to film the aircraft as long as I could.”

Eturbonews also printed a statement from Air France about the incident which read,

“Air France confirms that the crew of flight AF681, operating between Atlanta and Paris-Charles de Gaulle, made the decision to return to Atlanta shortly after take-off due to a technical problem. This decision was made in accordance with the manufacturer’s procedures, company instructions, and the precautionary principle.”

Why would the engine fail?

Built especially for Boeing’s 777, the GE90 first entered service with British Airways in 1995. While generally trouble free, there have been the occasional instances of engine failure, similar to what happened to Air France AF-681.

In total, since the introduction of the engine, there have been four other incidents of a 777 engine failing during take-off. That doesn’t include the most recent Air France incident.

The previous incidents were put down to transfer gearbox assemblies (TGBs) which resulted in in-flight shutdowns. An investigation later revealed that the failures were caused by TGB radial gear cracking and separation.

Were you on board Air France’s stricken 777? Let us know in the comments.

  1. A passenger from the flight AF-681 sat next to me on the flight to Europe the next day and told me about this incident.
    Ten minutes out, the captain announced they were returning to Atlanta “to check out an issue”, then announced to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing.
    I asked her for details on the hard landing – her take was that it was a surprisingly soft landing for such a heavy plane, IMHO speaking very much for the skill of the crew. She later saw the fire trucks on the runway, but no immediate action.

  2. “Air France flight AF-681 was scheduled to depart Atlanta Hartsfield for Paris Charles de Gaulle at 4.35pm EST Sunday afternoon when the flight was delayed 1hr and 12min due to circumstances that are still not clear.”

    I can clarify the delay.
    Severe weather with lightning and hailstorms affected Atlanta Hartsfield on Sunday afternoon, causing the airport to shut down for approximately an hour.
    I was enroute from Orlando MCO to Atlanta on flight Delta 1058, due to land Sunday June 23 at 4:08 pm. The severe weather already was in full swing, and we circled in a holding pattern. The captain then announced the airport was shut down, no takeoffs or landings, hence the delay of the Air France flight described in this article.

    (My flight was rerouted to Charleston for refueling and returned to Atlanta after the weather cleared. We passengers then faced chaotic circumstances with missed connections and no reimbursement for hotel stays, as Delta declared itself not responsible for costs incurred by weather. But that is is different story altogether I would be happy to speak about with Simple Flying – please contact me.)

  3. My husband and I were both on the flight. It was scary. The pilot, a female to clarify (so you may want to change the ‘he/him’ references in this article to ‘she/her’) was an absolute professional. The flight crew were a tad rattled, understandably so. A few minutes into take-off, we heard a very loud ‘BANG’ come from the bottom of the plane. Everyone heard it, and a few mumbled around that they thought the landing gear had gotten stuck while they were pulling it in. I saw a gentleman in first class turn around and loudly ask ‘What the F*CK was that?!’.

    My husband, the perpetual cool customer, was trying to soothe my concerns by saying ‘it’s probably nothing’. Unfortunately we could all see the plane losing altitude out of our windows. Then, perhaps the most jarring of all, a male crew member announced that per the pilot’s orders, they were turning around and going back to the Atlanta airport to determine what ‘the incident’ was. They kept referring to ‘it’ as ‘the incident’. He then finished his announcement by saying: ‘And remember, in the event of an emergency evacuation upon landing, you are not permitted to take any of your belongings with you. Quickly exit the plane through your nearest emergency exit. And please read your safety information cards now.’

    Welp, that was the icing on the cake for me. I fly a lot, and have never had a fear of flying. I quite enjoy it! But I’ve never heard a crew member explicitly tell us to read our safety cards ‘now’ and that we aren’t to take any belongings if we have to evacuate the plane.

    The pilot made a few brief announcements as well, but she was calm & collected. What a pro. You never would have known that one of her two engines had just failed. I truly want to extend my deepest gratitude to her. The landing was a hard slam upon impact, but given the circumstances, she deserves recognition.

    The second most jarring part was seeing the emergency vehicles and flashing lights upon landing. We saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles rapidly approaching, and someone loudly asked what we were all thinking: “Are we on fire right now?!” It didn’t help that since the moment of the loud BAM, they cut the cabin AC (no judgment, likely a very good precaution), and so by the time we landed, the cabin was boiling hot. That combined with the emergency vehicles made for some pretty harrowing assumptions.

    Everyone started looking out the windows to learn more. I saw a number of other planes somewhat close by and thought to myself ‘Well, if we were on fire and at risk of exploding, they probably wouldn’t have let us land near other active planes, right? They wouldn’t risk it?” Not the best thought to have to muster while on an international flight. But it calmed me down enough. It was a good thing too, because we remained on the plane itself for another ~45 minutes or so grounded before they told us that they were completely cancelling the flight and we were all being given hotel rooms to stay the night.

    All in all, was it scary? Heck yes! But could it have been a lot worse? Also, heck yes. We were delayed over an hour because of the weather. Imagine if we hadn’t been delayed and the engine had failed while we were already over an hour into our journey. That type of emergency landing would have been far more dangerous. Fortunately for everyone, we hadn’t risen too high yet, and our pilot was an absolute pro. If anyone deserves our gratitude, it is her.

  4. I saw a video of that on youtube, and there were a couple curious things about it. Notably, it sure took off quickly, and while this article says they didn’t dump fuel, the crew did tell ATC that they were landing with 62,000 lbs of fuel. Per wikipedia, a full load is 200,000 lbs of fuel, and a flight from ATL to Paris with 330 people (out of a capacity of about 360) would almost certainly need at least 80% of the available fuel, right?

    Anyway, in any event, it seemed light. Great work all around, of course.

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