United Airlines Flight Diverted After Engine Violently Shakes

A United Airlines Boeing 737-800 had to return to Denver at the weekend as the engine cowl peeled open during its climb. The aircraft, registered N27239, was undertaking flight UA293 to Orlando when it had to cease its ascent and return to the origin airport. All passengers and crew deplaned safely and were accommodated on an alternative flight.

United 737-800
The United 737-800 had to return to Denver when its cowling began to peel off. Photo: Masakatsu Ukon via Wikimedia

What happened?

According to the Aviation Herald, United Airlines flight UA-293 was climbing out of Denver on its scheduled service to Orlando when the problem occurred. The Boeing 737-800, registered N27239, had taken off from Denver’s runway 08 when the engine cowl was observed to be opening midflight. One passenger shot a video of the cowling flapping around which was shared by the Av Herald.

The crew stopped the climb at around FL110 as a result of the incident. The aircraft took an about-turn and headed back to Denver Airport for a safe landing on runway 16R. The aircraft touched down just about 30 minutes after departure. All crew and passengers are reported to be safe.

United flight
The path of the United flight. Image: GCMap

One passenger shared a video of the aircraft being escorted to the gate by a number of emergency service vehicles. Clearly, Denver Airport was not taking any chances with this one.

Once on the ground, the damage to the aircraft was clear to see:

According to Planespotters, the aircraft in question is a Boeing 737-800 of 20 years of age, originally owned by Continental Air Lines but transferred to United as part of the merger back in 2010. However, the age of the plane is not considered to have been a factor in the incident.

Why did this happen?

During routing between flight maintenance, it is relatively common for aircraft engine cowlings to be unlatched in order to check various components inside the powerhouse. It is the responsibility of the maintenance crew to re-latch the cowling prior to flight, something that appears not to have happened with this particular aircraft.

Airbus has developed a safety protocol to avoid any risk of forgetting to lath the cowling. One commenter on the Av Herald website explained, saying,

“A320s have keys installed for the first latch of both engines and will most certainly be noticed when doing a walkaround since the keys will only fall off once the latches are locked, plus the keys are placed in the flight deck and is a checklist item to check their presence”

Airbus cowling flags
Cowling flags on an Airbus aircraft. Photo: Airbus

According to another commenter, the A320neo even has a flag that sticks out of the cowling, indicating it has not yet been latched. While these modifications are yet to be implemented on the CFM engines of Boeing made planes, this weekend’s incident is likely to make it a more urgent matter to address.

Although the incident must have been terrifying for passengers on board, it’s unlikely that they were ever in any major danger. Equally, though the damage to the aircraft looks severe, it hasn’t taken long for United to put it back into service. On the 1st October, according to Flight Radar, N27239 successfully complete flight number UA2721 from Denver to Miami, so is already safely flying once more.