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Burning smell fills cabin and B777 lands on Pacific atoll

July 14, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59The pilot of a United Airlines B777 carrying 348 people across the Pacific has landed the plane safely on a tiny Pacific atoll, with on-board alarms sounding and a smell of burning filling the cabin.

Flight UA201, from Honolulu to Guam, was diverted to Midway Atoll, one of the world’s most remote islands (population about 60) because of a  “mechanical issue,”  the airline said on Saturday.

When the smell became strong, the flight decided to return to Honolulu. But about 10 minutes later “haze was observed in the cabin prompting the crew to turn north and divert to Midway,” Simon Hradecky’s authoritative Aviation Herald reported. The aircraft dumped fuel and landed safely in Midway about one hour after turning around.Midway Atoll aerial photo

Passenger Teresita Smith told Eyewitness News on WABC-TV New York: “The captain said that the smell was getting very strong in the cockpit and so they were very concerned – and as they were getting ready to land they said their electricity started to go out in the cockpit. And one of the things they had mentioned is the radar sensors that went out when we were getting ready to land.”

The Aviation Herald quotes an internet report that the aircraft lost transponder, radios and other systems one by one. “However, radar data indicate the transponder worked until touchdown,” it notes.

The mystery smell, variously described as electrical or burning, started in Honolulu before takeoff, Teresita Smith said. It caused a three-hour delay before United mechanics gave the go-ahead to fly.

Five hours later, about halfway across the Pacific, the smell came back – worse this time – and the pilots diverted to Midway.

The airline sent another B777 to pick up passengers and crew and fly them back to Hawaii, from where passengers took off for Guam again.

Passengers tend to be more apprehensive about unusual occurrences in the air  following the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370, the Malaysia Airlines B777, in March.

When the acrid smell hit United flight 201, even the flight attendants looked nervous, Smith said. Other passengers said that people were praying or weeping.

The United plane was fortunate to be near Midway Atoll,  site of a former US Naval station. It has big airstrips dating back to World War II. Midway is administered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and its 60 or so residents are members of that service.

Midway was the site of massive battles in World War II. On 4 June 1942, the US Navy devastatingly defeated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway, sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers along with hundreds of aircraft, losses the Japanese were never able to replace.

Passengers on flight UA201 have reason to be grateful that the runways the Americans built on Midway are still there – and long enough to take a B777.

United reported: “United flight 201 from Honolulu to Guam diverted to Midway Island Thursday because of a mechanical issue. We sent another aircraft to Midway Island to fly our customers back to Honolulu, where we are accommodating them to their final destinations.”

The passengers were on Midway for 14 hours.

Written by Peter Needham

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