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Several parts collected from United engine as investigators zero in on the cause

Investigation homing in on why engine fan blades broke off
Posted at 3:12 PM, Feb 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 09:14:27-05

DENVER — Broomfield police shared photos Monday of the debris from the United Airlines engine they have collected following Saturday’s incident.

Several pieces of flight 328’s right engine were spread out on a blue tarp. The department is storing those parts at its headquarters before turning them over to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Broomfield Police plane debris storage

The Boeing 777-200 made an emergency landing at Denver International Airport Saturday afternoon after its right engine sustained a contained failure just after takeoff.

The failure caused the engine's inlet and cowling to separate, raining debris onto a wide area of Broomfield, affecting homes and property in the Northmoor and Red Leaf neighborhoods. Nobody on board or on the ground was injured.

Most of that debris fell at Broomfield County Commons Park. It's where officers spent a lot of the weekend picking up after receiving dozens of phone calls from people finding them.

"We really appreciate the enthusiasm from our community. Everybody's really been trying to help," Broomfield police spokesperson Rachel Welte said Monday.

However, Welte says the department has received an overwhelming number of the calls from people reporting debris locations, and they don't have the resources to collect every piece.

"We're just asking people please call us if you find a substantial piece of plane, so something about the size of a computer monitor would be great," she said.

It's possible people may still find debris into the spring, Welter says, especially as they pay more attention to their yards.

Meanwhile, NTSB investigators released details of their initial findings, indicating extensive damage to the right-engine’s fan blades. Some of the blades were missing or showed signs of metal fatigue.

This image taken Feb. 22, 2021, shows the damage to fan blades in the number 2 engine of United Airlines flight 328, a Boeing 777-200, following an engine failure incident Saturday.

The initial examination of the airplane indicated most of the damage was confined to the number 2 engine. However, the airplane sustained minor damage to the wing and the body fairing.

This image taken Feb. 22, 2021, shows the damage to the wing and the body fairing of the United Airlines flight 328 Boeing 777-200, following an engine failure incident Saturday.

Safety experts say the investigation will focus on why the fan blades snapped and whether mistakes were made in manufacturing, maintenance or inspections. However, the NTSB did caution that it was too early to draw conclusions as to what caused the engine to fail.

The engine powering the aircraft is a Pratt & Whitney 4000 series. Federal aviation regulators are concerned about the hollow fan blades that are unique to that particular engine and issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive, requiring immediate or stepped-up inspections of Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with these engines.

United Airlines has grounded 24 of its Boeing 777-200 airplanes with this engine following the flight 328 incident. The airline is the only U.S. operator with this type of engine in its fleet.

Aviation regulatory agencies in other countries have followed suit. Japan's Transport Ministry instructed Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, which operate aircraft equipped with the same series of engines, to ground the Boeing 777s in their fleet.

Pratt & Whitney said it "is actively coordinating with operators and regulators to support the revised inspection interval of the Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines that power Boeing 777 aircraft."