Rod Williams and his family were headed to San Francisco, the first leg of their journey home after a Hawaiian vacation, when their plane nearly crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 18. “Very shortly into the flight itself, the pitch of the aircraft took a dramatic rise,” he said in an interview with NBC.
According to NBC Bay Area staff,
Rod Williams and his family were headed to San Francisco, the first leg of their journey home after a Hawaiian vacation, when their plane nearly crashed into the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 18.
“Very shortly into the flight itself, the pitch of the aircraft took a dramatic rise,” he said in an interview with NBC Bay Area Monday, soon after the near-miss came to the public’s attention and nearly a month after the incident.
It happened less than 90 seconds after departure.
Data from Flightradar24 reveals the United Airlines 777 suddenly dove, falling 7,000 feet per minute.
“We’re all looking at each other, looking out the window, grabbing onto the seat, grabbing the hand of the person next to you, praying under your breath and maybe a scream here and there,” Williams said.
He has an aviation background and said he had an idea of what was happening, but only on Monday did he learn they were within 800 feet of slamming into the ocean.
“We’re all 5 to 5.2 seconds away from not being around our loved ones,” he said.
In a statement, United said, “After landing at SFO, the pilots filed a safety report. Then coordinated with the FAA and ALPA on an investigation that ultimately resulted in the pilots receiving additional training.”
What remains unclear is what exactly happened. But experts say there’s a number of factors to consider.
“When I first read about the incident yesterday, my first thought was, ‘What was the weather like, was it a microburst from a thunderstorm?’ And the second thing was there was something wrong with the autopilot that caused the plane to disengage from the autopilot and maybe drop to the altitude it did, again we just don’t know from the information provided so far,” said aviation expert Mike McCarron.
This is just one of a series of close calls involving passenger planes in the past months. The NTSB is looking for similarities.
While United Airlines did not say what the issue was, they did say there was nothing wrong with the plane.
In fact, the flight landed safely at San Francisco International Airport 27 minutes ahead of its scheduled arrival and departed for Chicago on its next flight about two and a half hours later.