United engine catches fire minutes into flight from Bush Airport: 'Thought we were going to die'

Luke Jones Image
Thursday, March 7, 2024
United engine catches fire minutes into flight from IAH
Passengers aboard a United Boeing 737 faced a terrifying moment when the plane's engine caught on fire moments after leaving IAH.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A United flight from Houston to Fort Myers had to turn around Monday when one of the plane's engines caught fire.

Several of the 167 passengers on board Flight 1118 took a video showing a line of flames shooting out of the engine.

"I remember there was just this bright, flashing light that came through the window, and it sounded like a bomb went off, and then it was just a strobe of fire out the window," David Gruninger, who was on the connecting flight home to Florida with 15 of his friends after attending a wedding in Mexico, said.

FlightAware data shows the Boeing 737 taking off from George Bush Intercontinental Airport at 6:40 p.m. It barely left the Houston area when it turned around at 6:52 p.m.

"The plane was nosediving, and the pilot was bringing the plane back up," passenger Elliot Trexler said. "The plane was also rocking back and forth a lot."

"And then it just turned into chaos. People were screaming and crying and trying to figure out what was going on," Gruninger said.

Radio transmissions from the plane shed some light on the issues it was having.

"It was our left engine, our number one engine, that was surging when we were climbing through about 10,000 (feet), and flight attendants saw momentary flames back there," a pilot can be heard saying.

"I think it's fair to say we all thought we were going to die," Trexler said.

In fact, Trexler said he even began composing a goodbye message to his wife.

"I emailed her an email that said, 'I love you, and you should feel free to move on,'" Trexler said.

The plane landed back at Bush Airport at 7:13 p.m., just 33 minutes after takeoff.

"It was a very turbulent ride back, and it was a pretty harsh landing," Gruninger said. "This is something I'll remember every time I get on a flight now."

United flew its passengers to Fort Myers a few hours later on a different plane.

The plane with engine trouble hasn't been in service since but is scheduled to depart Bush Airport for Orlando at 7:20 a.m. Thursday.

Emails from United provided by one passenger show they offered a $200 flight credit and a $15 meal voucher.

United provided the following statement:

"United flight 1118 returned to Houston shortly after takeoff due to an engine issue. The flight landed safely, and the passengers deplaned normally. We arranged for a new aircraft to take our customers to their destination, which departed for Fort Myers later that evening."

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