A United Airlines jet flying from Honolulu to Guam with 348 people on board was forced to land on Midway Island in the Pacific after a mechanical problem, the airline said. The Boeing 777 landed late Thursday at Midway, an atoll about a third of the way along the 3,800-mile route. The airline did not describe the problem.Here's the Flight Aware flight path:
By several accounts passengers and crew noted a burning smell, prompting a return back to Honolulu, only to later encounter some 'haze' in the cabin that forced an immediate diversion to the closest airport--Midway. Passengers mentioned a scary emergency landing. But this kind of thing isn't uncommon in the aviation world, so why devote a post?
Well, obviously the similarities and/or comparisons to MH370. Right now they don't appear completely similar--obviously the transponder on UAL201 was operating all the way to the ground because Flight Aware was able to track the flight. As far as anyone knows there was no report of any burning smells on MH370, but then again, depending on the Malaysian government for accurate information has been a fool's errand and more than a few transport pilots suspected a fire scenario. Passengers on UAL201 also relayed anecdotal information from the cockpit crew about systems 'shutting down' towards the end of the flight.
Hopefully there will be more details released on what appears to be a heroic landing. In the idle speculation department, if the problem that affected this flight also happened on MH370 it's possible that one crew handled the situation better than the other. Obviously it could also provide another possible explanation of what happened to MH370 if a systemic problem is identified with the triple seven.
At any rate, diverting to Midway suggests something serious occurred or was feared in this incident. The island is remote and the main runway is only 7800 feet long. Adequate, but well short of the two 12,000 foot runways at PHNL with full ILS for a night landing. There are lights at PMDY but no ILS, which would have assisted an emergency landing had the island come under a fog bank or precipitation. There are also a lot of birds near Henderson Field as the island is run by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, who oversee a bird sanctuary there. Interestingly enough, none of the wire reports from the MSM mentioned this little factoid.
There are also no major mechanical or passenger services there, complicating a stop-over. They couldn't even get the baggage off the aircraft, which at last check was still marooned on the island awaiting technical scrutiny. The authorities and airline have seemingly dummied up so it's unclear who might be investigating other than United; FAA? NTSB? FBI? Boeing? No official word. But based on media reports of a 3 hour delay on the tarmac investigating an electrical smell in the cockpit before being cleared to fly one might think somebody other than United would be interested.
Also, it's unclear as to why they couldn't send a rescue aircraft to Midway to pick up the passengers and carry them on to Guam, their destination. Instead it took them BACK to Honolulu, where they were put on another flight to Guam on another airplane. The explanation might be a simple as aircraft positioning, but my, what an ordeal for those passengers.
This event might turn out to be a big fat slice of no big deal. But in our current threat environment and with MH370 still missing it would be surprising if certain entities don't take some interest.