United Airlines engine catches fire mid-flight from Houston airport, flames caught on camera

ByLuke Jones ABCNews logo
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 -- The Federal Aviation Administration is looking into a mechanical issue on a United Airlines flight that caused flames to shoot from the rear of an engine minutes after takeoff Monday evening.

The 21-year-old Boeing 737 departed from Houston's Bush International Airport and was headed to Fort Myers with 167 passengers onboard.

Passengers told ABC News that flames began shooting from an engine on the left side of the aircraft 15 minutes into the flight.

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.

According to a recording of air traffic control transmissions provided by LiveATC.net, the pilot radioed in the midair emergency, saying, "Got 167 souls on board ... we had engine limited surge and stall on the left engine."

"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."

Such engine compressor stalls, which occur a few times a year, cause excess fuel to burn off, according to aviation experts.

"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 said, according to the recorded traffic control transmissions.

The plane was forced to return to Houston.

United Airlines said in a statement that the incident was "due to an engine issue. The flight landed safely and passengers deplaned normally."

Trexler told ABC News there was nothing normal about the flight.

"The cabin was dark but it suddenly was illuminated with red, orange and yellow colors. The engine was totally engulfed in flames," Trexler said.

Once back on the ground, a shaken Trexler told ABC Houston station KTRK he started composing a goodbye message to his wife.

"I think it's fair to say we all thought we were going to die," said Trexler, adding, "The plane was rocking back and forth a lot."

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.

Emails from United Airlines 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."