United Airlines flight 863, a Boeing 747 airliner, took off last June 28 from San Francisco International Airport bound for Sydney, Australia, CBS News Correspondent Bob Orr reports.
Just seconds after leaving the runway, the captain alerted controllers that the jumbo jet was in trouble. KCBS radio obtained the FAA tower tapes.
Captain: "United 863 heavy, we've lost an engine, we'll be proceeding out the 295 and returning to the airport."
With one of its two right engines out, the jetliner had trouble climbing and remained so close to the ground controllers lost it on radar.
Controller #1: "...Is United 863 stillÂ….Oh there he is, he scared me, we lost radar, I didn't want to give you another airplane if we had a problem."
Controller #2: "Are you gonna keep him, or are you gonna give him back to me?"
Controller #1: "Nah, he's supposed to be on you isn't he?"
Controller #2: "I haven't heard from him."
Controller #1: "Okay, I'll try him again."
Sources tell CBS News that the co-pilot, who'd only made one takeoff in the previous year, made a series of mistakes and nearly stalled the jumbo jet. United 863, filled with 307 people, headed right for San Bruno Mountain.
With cockpit warnings signaling an imminent crash, the plane cleared the mountain by as little as one hundred feet. The captain took control.
The jumbo jet dumped fuel over the Pacific and returned for an emergency landing in San Francisco.
Captain: "We do want equipment standing by just as a precaution. Souls on board three zero seven."
The plane landed safely. But the incident has prompted United Airlines to revamp its pilot training, with a special focus of getting co-pilots more hands-on flying time.
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