A United Airlines Boeing 747 airline bound for Tokyo returned safely to San Francisco International airport Monday after eyewitnesses reported hearing a loud bang and seeing flames coming out of its engine.
Officials at SFO said Flight 837, flying from SFO to Narita International Airport, had to shut down one of its four engines. The plane, which was carrying 202 passengers and 15 crew members, made a successful landing around 1:45 p.m. at SFO.
United Airlines confirmed that the plane experienced mechanical problems with one of their engines, but could not confirm whether there were flames.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the cause of the engine problem. Preliminary information indicates the problem was with the inboard engine on the left side.
Several eyewitness accounts on Twitter around noon reported hearing multiple loud bangs and seeing flames coming out of the plane's engine when it was flying above San Bruno.
"Just saw fire come out of an engine of a plane taking off from SFO. A United plane," tweeted Sam Smith at 12:08 p.m. Smith, who was in his office in San Bruno, said the plane had flames coming out of the left side of the engine, and that there was a loud bang.
"It looked like it was going to land," he said.
"Plane was at a low altitude - 10 to 20 feet flame out of engine for two seconds," Smith said, adding that he didn't see any smoke or hear any sirens on the ground.
Danny Reed, who works in San Bruno, also tweeted around the same time: "Just watched United plane engine catch fire out of SFO."
Reed said he was walking out of his office on Cherry Avenue to get to his car, when he heard multiple loud bangs. "It took me a second to figure out what was going on," he said. "A group of coworkers were already outside looking up at the plane. By the time I looked, I couldn't make out the flames, but several of my coworkers clearly saw the engine on fire. It appeared to me that the plane was in controlled defense mode."
Reed said nobody had cellphones out to take pictures: "Everyone was just busy looking up."
Reed said the "bang" sounded louder than fireworks. "There were at least three bangs - that's what caught my attention," he said. "It was concerning."
A video taken by Max Raju, a passenger on the flight, shows what appears to be a fuel dump from the aircraft after flames were seen coming out from its engine. Alf Raju, Max Raju's father, said his son was sitting next to the engine, and sent him the following text:
"'Suddenly big fireballs came out of the engine' - pilot shut down engine then tried to re-start and 'more big fireballs came out' ... [pilot] shut down the engine and then dumped fuel over Pacific before landing back at SFO."