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United flight makes emergency landing in Houston due to possible engine fire

United plane makes emergency landing in Houston
United flight makes emergency landing in Houston after engine issue 01:31

A United Airlines flight that left Houston for Rio de Janeiro reversed course on Tuesday night, eventually making an emergency landing at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport after one of the plane's engines reportedly caught fire, officials said.

United Airlines Flight 129 landed safely after the crew reported a possible fire in the left engine around 9:20 p.m. local time Tuesday, the Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement. United called it "an engine issue" and said the Boeing 767 returned to Houston shortly after takeoff. The airline had initially described the problem as "a mechanical issue."

In an air traffic control audio tape obtained by CBS News on Wednesday, a Skywest pilot communicating with a control tower can be heard reporting "flames in the departure before us," which the tower identified as United Flight 129. The Skywest pilot described the situation as a "fire in the left engine," which rendered the engine inoperable. The United pilot then confirmed that the flight crew had declared an emergency and the plane would be turning back.

The flight initially departed from the Houston airport at 8:52 p.m. on Tuesday night and landed at the same airport two hours later, at 10:50 p.m., according to the tracking site FlightAware.

"The flight landed safely and passengers deplaned at the gate," United said in a statement. The airline said it arranged for a new plane to take passengers who were on that flight from Houston to Rio on Wednesday morning. 

No hospitalizations or injuries were reported in connection with the incident. The FAA said it will investigate.

CBS News has contacted fire authorities in Houston for more information.

Due to a series of recent safety incidents, including close calls between planes on airport runways across the U.S., the FAA held its first safety summit in 14 years earlier this month. At the time of the summit, which brought a panel of aviation personnel together to discuss what may be causing the spate of near-collisions, among other incidents, at least seven close calls had been reported this year.

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