United Airlines Boeing 737 Engine Fire Prompts Hawaii Emergency Landing

A United Airlines flight traveling from Hawaii was forced to return to Honolulu when a fire broke out in the engine. Flight UA132 was heading for Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on Sunday when flames started shooting out of the engine. The flight landed safely back at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport; no injuries were reported.

United engine fire
A United 737 suffered a dramatic engine fire. Photo: Josh Ley

There are some things you hope never happen to you on a plane. Hostage situations, severe turbulence, snakes… but something which has to be super scary for any passenger is to look out of the window and see flames shooting out of the engine.

That’s exactly what happened to passengers on a United Airlines flight last Sunday, leaving many stranded in Hawaii for almost a week.


What happened?

The United Airlines flight from Honolulu to Majuro, Marshall Islands, took off at 07:37 local time on Sunday 26th May. 141 passengers and eight crew were reported to be on board the Boeing 737-800, registration N37281.

N37281 takeoff
N37281 took off as normal. Photo: wikimedia

The aircraft took off as normal, but moments into the flight as the aircraft headed out over the water, something went wrong. Passengers report seeing flames shooting out of the left hand engine, in two bursts.

According to flight data, the aircraft then circled over the ocean for some time. Presumably the flight crew were performing tests on the engine to decide whether to abort the trip. Clearly the eventually decided that it could not go ahead. The aircraft landed back at Honolulu almost exactly two hours later, at 09:35.

UA132 flight path
UA132 flight path. Image: Flight Radar 24

The flight was met by emergency crews. However, no injuries were reported. Khon 2 reports that an airline spokesperson said the flight experienced a ‘mechanical issue’ with one of the engines. Detail of the nature of the incident was not reported.

Information on Flight Radar shows the flight cancelled, in addition to the three next hops which would have been using the same aircraft. At this time, the same trip programmed for June 2nd is still on the schedule, although it’s not clear whether the same 737 (N37281) will be used.

UA132 scheduled flights
UA132 is scheduled to fly again on 2nd June. Image: Flight Radar 24

Eyewitness report

Passenger Josh Ley was filming their flight when the incident occurred. He was reported by the IBTimes explaining what happened:

“Had fire and smoke coming out the back for like a few seconds, like two spurs of fire,” Ley said. “Then next thing you know we were staying at the same elevation, circling around for almost an hour before we landed again. It was about an hour of just trying to figure out what’s going on.”

The aircraft, N37281, was due to complete a four stop itinerary. Photo: Wikimedia

He went on to say that the pilot told passengers that a compressor on one of the engines had failed. Ley continued:

“They checked out the plane to make sure that we were safe to arrive at the gate. They had to cool down the [brakes]. They gave us the go-ahead to come back to the gate. We waited at the gate for a little while. Finally, we got the notice that our flight was canceled.”

Khon2 news agency reported on the incident:

Some passengers were booked onto the next flight out, which left at 09:37 on Monday. However, as there was not room for all of them, a number were told they would need to wait until Friday for a connection to Majuro. Ley has told reporters that they’ve been provided with hotel accommodation and food vouchers until the flight leaves.

It’s not the first time that a 737 has been reported to have suffered an engine fire. A Utair flight just last month was videoed with flames spewing from the engine. Despite the reassurances of crew members that all was well, and it was ‘normal’, passengers begged to differ, with three even trying to exit the plane via the wing emergency exit.

Have you ever seen flames coming from a plane engine? Let us know in the comments!


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Michael Glastonbury

“According to flight data, the aircraft then circled over the ocean for some time. Presumably the flight crew were performing tests on the engine to decide whether to abort the trip.” No. If an engine spews flames after takeoff, there are no tests to determine whether they can continue or not! On a long leg such as HNL-MAJ, there is a lot of fuel aboard, so they likely circled to get the aircraft weight down for landing, which is necessary because you can land at a lower speed at a lighter weight. They were also probably running several different checklists… Read more »


I glad everyone was safe


I just read this,,,been”out of the loop” for a while. Just wondering what Boeing or engine maker is going to say about this. Boeing maintenance or blame it on engine maker. Just glad no injuries.. just some under garments needed changed.


Yes,,, I’ve see flames emitting from an engine. I was on a Piedmont airlines Martin 404 from S.Johnson A.F.Base. N.C. to RDU N.C. #2 shooting flames. Scary indeed, my 2nd flight. Pilot announced “We have a ‘slight problem’,, please don’t be alarmed”. Pilot was very re-assuring and calm. As for me,, I almost broke off the armrest,, the lone F/A was really cool… sort of whistled “Off we go,,, into the wild blue yonder”!! (USAF song).

Uncle Q

Yes i have seen fire shooting from an engine, both front and back. This sounded like it was compressor stall. The time spent circling was probably to burn off fuel, or to dump fuel (if the 737 has fuel dump, and I don’t think that it does). Most aircraft have a max landing weight, which is less than the max takeoff weight. most likely the pilots shut down the malfunctioning engine, and then circled to burn fuel. It, of course takes more time to burn the fuel with just the one engine running. Another possibility is that they kept the… Read more »