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Engine Fire Prompts Diversion For United Airlines Boeing 767

SimpleFlying 4/1/2023 Chris Loh
© Provided by SimpleFlying

On Tuesday, March 28th, a Boeing 767-300ER operated by United Airlines encountered an engine failure quite shortly after taking off from George Bush Houston Intercontinental Airport. The aircraft stopped its climb and returned to Houston. At the time of publication, it has been on the ground for several days.

Incident details

On March 28th, the United Airlines Boeing 767-300ER registered N641UA took off from Houston Intercontinental (IAH) as flight UA129, destined for Rio de Janeiro (GIG).

Taking off at about 21:06, The Aviation Herald reports that the 767 suffered an engine failure during its climb. The flight crew reported that there was fire coming from the left-hand engine and immediately returned to IAH. The aircraft, with 160 people on board, leveled off at approximately 2,300 feet and then landed safely on runway 15L 13 minutes after departure.

If we consider that commercial aircraft climb at a rate of 1,500 to 2,500 feet per minute, it's clear that issues were encountered very shortly after takeoff, if not during. Indeed, data shows that the climb was stopped roughly four minutes after takeoff. The short timeframe for this incident can also be seen with the extremely short flight path taken to return to IAH.

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The opposite of a false alarm...

At the time of publication, N641UA has been on the ground for nearly four full days. However, data from indicates that the jet is scheduled to operate flight UA102 from Houston to Munich on April 2nd.

While many incidents reported by Simple Flying involve a fire or smoke indicator that turns out to be a sensor malfunction, this recent United incident is very much the opposite. Indeed, The Aviation Herald notes that the United crew had lost their #1 engine (PW4060), but received no fire indication - a rather concerning scenario. Of course, when it comes to true engine failures taking place, changes in performance should give the crew a strong indication of something having gone wrong.

As for an official word from United Airlines, the carrier reported an unspecified mechanical issue.

United Airlines' oldest widebody

N641UA is not just any aircraft operated by United. Rather, it holds the special status of being the airline's oldest widebody aircraft. Arriving at the airline in the early 90s with a number of other 767-300ERs, the 767 fleet at United ranges between 32 and 29 years of age. All of these aircraft were delivered to the airline without winglets, but United had the devices installed over 25 years later, mostly between 2016 and 2017.

Now at 32.1 yers of age, N641UA was delivered to the airline in April 1991 and holds serial number 25091 with line number 360. data notes that the jet is configured with 203 seats across three classes: 30 seats in business, 24 in premium economy, and 149 in economy.

Appearing to be based in Houston, N641UA has been recently flying domestic services to cities like New York, Denver, Chicago, and Washington DC. Internationally, its recent destinations include Rio de Janeiro, Berlin, Munich, and Madrid.

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Sources:, The Aviation Herald,

  • United Airlines
    Airline Type: Full Service Carrier
    Hub(s): Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Guam International Airport, Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport
    Year Founded: 1931
    Alliance: Star Alliance
    CEO: Scott Kirby
    Country: United States
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