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Passenger Says United Jet Floated Like Hang Glider When Engines Stopped

May 3, 1988

TOKYO (AP) _ Passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 97 today recalled the drama that unfolded before the Boeing 747 jetliner landed safely at New Tokyo International Airport with only one of its four engines working.

″When the sound of the engine stopped suddenly, I thought my heart beat would stop, too,″ said Shinobu Murota, 21, who was sitting in a window seat close to plane’s right engines when the jetliner landed Monday.

″I could feel the plane lose the power and start floating in the air like a hang glider. I thought we are going to crash,″ she said.

United Airline spokesman Robert Leu said UA Flight 97 from Los Angeles to Tokyo with 239 passengers and 19 crew members aboard lost the use of one engine while at 39,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean about one hour and 15 minutes from the airport, and a second engine about 30 minutes later.

Pilot Jack Harper radioed the control tower at 2:49 p.m. that he had shut down two of the four engines due to malfunctions and requested an ″expedited approach″ with emergency vehicles standing by, said Koichi Matsuda of the Transport Ministry.

The jet lost the use of its third engine shortly before landing, Leu said. But with 16 emergency vehicles including fire engines and ambulances lining the runnway, the Boeing 747-100 landed safely at the airport in Narita, 40 miles northeast of Tokyo at 3:17 p.m.

A statement released by United Airlines in Chicago said three engines lost power. But it did not specify whether they were shut down by the pilot or lost power by themselves. The statement said the Transport Ministry was investigating.

Government and industry sources in Washington said today that the tanks supplying fuel to the three dead engines were found to be dry when the plane landed.

The fourth tank had about 20,000 pounds of fuel remaining and was in no imminent danger of also going dry.

It was not known whether the fuel problem had been caused by a pilot error or by a mechanical problem with the plane’s fuel-switching equipment. On a Boeing 747, fuel is routinely transferred from tank to tank during a long flight to balance the aircraft.

A Boeing 747 has a maximum fuel capacity of 320,000 pounds and burns about 23,500 pounds of fuel per hour, according to the manufacturer.

A Tokyo newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, said that during the flight, the gauge that indicates how much fuel is feeding into the engines showed there was almost no fuel going into engines one and four and that the No. 3 engine was malfunctioning.

On landing, the passengers cheered and applauded when the jetliner touched down. The aircraft taxied to the terminal under its own power, and all aboard left the plane in a normal fashion. No one was injured, Leu said.

Ms. Murota, who was returning from San Francisco and Los Angeles said she was extremely frightened when flight attendants told passengers to put their heads down and grab their ankles in preparation for an emergeny landing.

″But when I saw the runway nearing, I knew I could at least survive because we are not flying over the ocean,″ she said.

″The impact of landing was harder than usual,″ she added. ″It went ‘bang 3/8 bang 3/8’ twice at landing, and I felt my heart beat quickly. Then there was a big cheer.″

Kyodo News Service quoted Kazuko Kato, who was returning from her honeymoon, as saying: ″I expected death at any moment.″ After the plane landed she shouted at her husband: ″Thank goodness we didn’t die 3/8″

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