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United flight loses power over Pacific: Emergency landing on Midway a close call

United Airlines flight, loses power, controls and smoke fills cabin over Pacific Ocean. Emergency landing on Midway Island diverts close call.
United Airlines flight, loses power, controls and smoke fills cabin over Pacific Ocean. Emergency landing on Midway Island diverts close call.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A United Airlines jet with 348 people on board experienced a very serious emergency over the Pacific Ocean thousands of miles away from the nearest airport when they lost power. The flight was about a third of a way into its 3,800 mile journey from Honolulu to Guam when a burning odor was detected among the passengers and smoke filled the cabin, reports Global Travel Industry News on July 12.

The flight was in serious trouble with nothing but water below them. The cabin was filling with smoke, the controls were malfunctioning and the plane lost power. The prognosis of this flight would have been grim, but there was a little 2.4 square mile remote island in the Pacific that had an emergency landing strip big enough to land the Boeing 777.

The former U.S. Naval station on Midway Island, which is a location often depicted in old war movies, has an airstrip that was left intact for emergency landings. When running into trouble in that neck of the Pacific Ocean, pilots can divert their flights to airstrip, which was the case here. The pilot put the Boeing 777 safely down on that remote airstrip.

NBC News today is calling this a “Shock Landing” because of the seriousness of the emergency landing. The plane was experiencing mechanical problems and landing was the only option. Thankfully aviation experts long ago kept the landing strip at Henderson Field on the island intact for emergency purposes.

This tiny plot of land surrounded by the Pacific Ocean was once a U.S. Naval base, but today it is home to about 40 to 60 United States Wildlife Service members. When United Flight 201 from Honolulu landed safely on the island, the 355 passengers and 12 crew members were visibly happy to be on solid ground.

The people getting off the plane were anxious, with some of the passengers crying and some actually shaking. A few were seen praying after getting off the plane.

Passengers report that when they first boarded the plane in Honolulu there was “peculiar odor” in the passenger cabin. The flight was delayed three hours and then the United Airlines mechanics said the plane was safe to fly.

The smell came back about five hours into the flight, but instead of being on the tarmac where flight mechanics can check out the smell, they were over the Pacific far away from any airports. This turned into a very frightening ordeal for the passengers and most likely the crew.

After the flight touched down on Midway, the passengers got off the plane and led into a gymnasium where they waited hours for another plane to come and get them. Another plane was sent to Midway that picked up the passengers and returned them to Hawaii.

While the passengers were more than a bit shaken by the time the plane landed in Midway, they did land on one of the most historic sites from World War II. This is a place that not too many people get to see.

Midway Island was the site of violent fighting during World War II, a place where many lives were lost in the Battle at Midway, one of the most famous battles to come out of war. The passengers landed on Midway’s Henderson Field, which was the site for many troops to land during World War II. Thankfully for the passengers and the crew of Flight 201 from Honolulu it is an emergency landing strip in the Pacific Ocean today.

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