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United flight drops debris on Colorado neighborhood during emergency landing

Plane engine explodes moments into flight
Plane engine explodes moments into flight 02:05

A United Airlines flight made a safe emergency landing Saturday after experiencing engine failure shortly after takeoff. Large pieces of debris fell from the plane and onto a residential Colorado neighborhood, damaging property and sparking a federal investigation into what went wrong.

United Flight 328, carrying 231 passengers and 10 crew members, was scheduled to fly from Denver to Honolulu. It took off around 12 p.m. but was forced to return to Denver International Airport after takeoff, the airline said in a statement. None of the passengers or employees were injured.

"A Boeing 777-200 operated by United Airlines returned to Denver International Airport and landed safely Saturday after experiencing a right-engine failure shortly after takeoff," the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. 

"The passengers deplaned on Runway 26-Right and were bused to the terminal," the FAA added.

Police in the city of Broomfield, located about 16 miles north of Denver, responded to reports of metal debris falling from the plane around 1 p.m. Debris was scattered across three different neighborhoods. Local fire officials said there was damage to homes and a few vehicles. Police said no one on the ground was hurt.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on MSNBC's "Politics Nation" soon after debris began falling from the sky and said the incident  was "obviously concerning." Buttigieg said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is mobilizing so an independent agency can piece together what happened.

"I want to make sure we understand what happened and increase sense of safety," he said.  

Broomfield Police Department
Debris from a United flight on February 20, 2021. Broomfield Police Department

"A lot of people said they heard a really loud explosion, which startled a lot of people, and then they just started seeing basically (what) they thought was a plane falling from the sky," police spokesperson Rachel Welte told reporters.

Welte said the area is typically lively but residents were inside due to the cold weather. "This park, on a day like today, when it's not as cold as last weekend, we could have hundreds of people here."

The FAA and NTSB are both investigating the incident. According to the FAA, the NTSB "will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates." 

The FAA said it is aware of reports of debris in the vicinity of the airplane's flight path, and the NTSB is asking anyone with debris to contact local law enforcement.

Emergency Landing Plane Debris
A piece of debris in Broomfield, Colorado, on February 20, 2021. David Zalubowski / AP
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