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'I thought we were done': Parts fall from sky in plane scare

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (AP) — David Delucia was settling back into his airplane seat and starting to relax on his way to a long-awaited vacation when a huge explosion and flash of light interrupted an in-flight announcement and put him in survival mode.

The Boeing 777-200, headed from Denver to Honolulu on Saturday with 231 passengers and 10 crew aboard, suffered a catastrophic failure in its right engine and flames erupted under the wing as the plane began to lose altitude.

As Delucia and his wife prepared for the worst, people in this Denver suburb reacted in horror as huge pieces of the engine casing and chunks of fiberglass rained down on a sports fields and on streets and lawns, just missing one home and crushing a truck. The explosion, visible from the ground, left a trail of black smoke in the sky, and tiny pieces of insulation filled the air like ash.

The plane landed safely at Denver International Airport, and no one on board or on the ground was hurt, authorities said. But both those in the air and on the ground were deeply shaken.

“When it initially happened, I thought we were done. I thought we were going down,” said Delucia, who stuffed his wallet in his pocket so he could be easily identified if the plane did go down. “The pilot did an amazing job. It was pretty unnerving.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement that the airplane experienced a right-engine failure shortly after takeoff.

Video posted on Twitter showed the engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane flew through the air. Freeze frames from different video taken by a passenger sitting slightly in front of the engine and posted on Twitter appeared to show a broken fan blade in the engine.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating. Authorities have not released any details about what may have caused the failure.

United said in a separate statement that most passengers on United Flight 328 were rebooked on a new flight to Hawaii, but some chose to stay in a hotel overnight instead.

The Broomfield Police Department posted photos on Twitter showing large, circular pieces of debris that appeared to be the engine cowling leaning against a house in the suburb about 16 miles (40 kilometers) northwest of Denver. Police asked anyone injured on the ground to come forward.

Tyler Thal, who lives in the area, told The Associated Press that he was out for a walk with his family when he noticed a large commercial plane flying unusually low and took out his phone to film it.

“While I was looking at it, I saw an explosion and then the cloud of smoke and some debris falling from it. It was just like a speck in the sky, and as I’m watching that, I’m telling my family what I just saw and then we heard the explosion,” he said in a phone interview. “The plane just kind of continued on, and we didn’t see it after that.”

Kirby Klements was inside with his wife when they heard a huge booming sound, he said. A few seconds later, the couple saw a massive piece of debris fly past their window and into the bed of Klements’ truck, crushing the cab and pushing the vehicle into the dirt.

He estimated the circular engine cowling at 15 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter. Fine pieces of the fiberglass insulation used in the airplane engine fell from the sky “like ash” for about 10 minutes, he said, and several large chunks of insulation landed in his backyard.

“If it had been 10 feet different, it would have landed right on top of the house,” he said in a phone interview with the AP. “And if anyone had been in the truck, they would have been dead.”

Based on initial photos and videos posted by passengers, aviation safety experts said the plane appeared to have suffered an uncontained and catastrophic engine failure.

Such an event is extremely rare and happens when huge spinning pieces inside the engine suffer some sort of failure and breach an armored casing around the engine that is designed to contain the damage, said John Cox, an aviation safety expert and retired airline pilot who runs an aviation safety consulting firm called Safety Operating Systems.

“That unbalanced disk has a lot of force in it, and it’s spinning at several thousand rotations per minute ... and when you have that much centrifugal force, it has to go somewhere,” he said in a phone interview.

Pilots practice how to deal with such an event frequently and would have immediately shut off anything flammable in the engine, including fuel and hydraulic fluid, using a single switch, Cox said.

Former NTSB Chairman Jim Hall called the incident another example of “cracks in our culture in aviation safety (that) need to be addressed.”

Hall, who was on the board from 1994 to 2001, has criticized the FAA over the past decade as “drifting toward letting the manufacturers provide the aviation oversight that the public was paying for.” That goes especially for Boeing, he said.

The last fatality on a U.S. airline flight involved such an engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas in April 2018. A passenger was killed when the engine disintegrated more than 30,000 feet above Pennsylvania and debris struck the plane, breaking the window next to her seat. She was forced halfway out the window before other passengers pulled her back inside.

In that case, the breakdown was blamed on a broken fan blade in an engine of the Boeing 737. The Federal Aviation Administration ordered airlines to step up inspections of fan blades on certain engines made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran S.A.

In 2010, a Qantas Airbus A380 suffered a frightening uncontained engine failure shortly after takeoff from Singapore. Shrapnel from the engine damaged critical systems on the plane, but pilots were able to land safely. The incident was blamed on the faulty manufacturing of a pipe in the Rolls Royce engine.

Ulster man killed in Cotton Hollow crash

LITCHFIELD — An Ulster man is dead following a single-car accident on Cotton Hollow Road in Litchfield Township on Saturday morning.

According to Pennsylvania State Police, 31-year-old Christopher J. Bishop was traveling west on Cotton Hollow Road in Litchfield when he lost control of his vehicle at around 8:26 a.m. on Saturday.

Police noted that the crash occurred just east of North Rome Road on Cotton Hollow.

“(Bishop) was attempting to navigate a right hand curve and lost control of the vehicle,” police said in their report.

The car then rotated clockwise until the 12 o’clock position of the vehicle was facing the North and subsequently crashed into an embankment, according to police.

“(Bishop’s car) then overturned onto the driver side and subsequently came to a final rest after crashing into a tree which impacted the mid roof of the vehicle,” police said.

Bishop was declared deceased on scene, according to police.

Athens’ Gavin Bradley holds the bracket he won Saturday to take the District 4 title at 113 pounds. For the complete story, see Page B1.

South African virus variant found in NY resident, Cuomo says

NEW YORK (AP) — The first case of the South African coronavirus variant has been discovered in a New York state resident, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday.

The South African variant case involved a resident of Long Island’s Nassau County, Cuomo said in a news release. The sequencing was conducted at Opentrons Labworks Inc’s Pandemic Response Lab, a New York City-based commercial lab, and verified at the Wadsworth Center in Albany.

A Connecticut resident who had been hospitalized in New York City was found to have the South African variant last week.

The mutated version of the virus, originally identified in South Africa, was first found in the United States last month. Scientists believe it is more easily spread than other virus strains.

Cuomo said the variant’s arrival in New York means that COVID-19 safety measures like wearing masks and maintaining distance from other people are more important than ever. “We are in a race right now — between our ability to vaccinate and these variants which are actively trying to proliferate — and we will only win that race if we stay smart and disciplined,” he said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement, “We don’t believe the South African variant is more deadly, but it may be more contagious. The best response is to continue the tried and true precautions: wearing masks, avoiding social gatherings, distancing, staying home and getting tested when sick.”

New York state’s latest COVID-19 numbers, meanwhile show a continued downward trend in hospitalizations and deaths following the holiday season spike.

There were fewer than 5,800 patients hospitalized with the virus on Saturday, a decline of more than 800 from a week earlier.

The state recorded 75 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, the first time since Dec. 16 that the daily death toll was under 100.

COVID takes heavy toll in Chemung County

The rise in case numbers and deaths due to complications from COVID-19 have slowed in the region, but the virus is still active and has taken a heavy toll in Chemung County in recent days.

The death toll related to the COVID-19 virus in Chemung County is now up to 86 according to the Department of Health, an increase of 11 over the weekend.

The county now has 6,381 cases since last March — an increase of 57 over the weekend with 6,236 recoveries. Currently there are 49 people hospitalized to fight the virus and 59 active cases.

In the Morning Times’ coverage area, the Town of Chemung has had 184 cases with 183 recoveries and Van Etten stands at 60 cases and 55 recoveries.

Tioga County, N.Y., remains stalled at a death toll of 69 related to the virus.

There have now been 2,796 confirmed cases since March, an increase of 46 over the weekend.

The county is reporting only 86 active cases.

Bradford County is up to 3,597 confirmed cases — an increase of 44 over the weekend — with an additional 669 probable cases, which is up by 33 from the number on Thursday.

Probable cases are defined by the Centers for Disease Control as “showing symptoms and having contact with an infected person, or meeting one of those criteria and testing positive for coronavirus antibodies, rather than for the virus itself.”

The death toll related to the COVID-19 virus in Bradford County has risen by one to 74.

The Sayre ZIP Code (18840) is now up to 766 confirmed cases, an increase of nine. There are also 62 probable cases, according to the Department of Health.

Athens (18810) is up to 473 (up 4) with an additional 53 probable cases.

Other confirmed case numbers across the county (changes noted in parentheses) include:

Canton — 265 (up 3) with 36 additional cases considered probable.

Columbia Cross Roads — 125 with 14 additional cases considered probable.

Gillett — 208 with 32 — nine more than Thursday — additional cases considered probable.

Milan — 77 with 10 additional cases considered probable.

Monroeton — 88 with 11 additional cases considered probable.

New Albany — 70 with 12 additional cases considered probable.

Rome — 122 (up 9) with 14 additional cases considered probable.

Towanda — 42 (up 6) with 79 (up 5) additional cases considered probable.

Troy — 393 (up 4) with 45 (up 6) additional cases considered probable.

Ulster — 124 (up 4) with 26 additional cases considered probable.

Wyalusing — 171 with 32 additional cases considered probable.

Tioga County, Pa. has a few notable numbers as well. The county has had 2,150 confirmed cases and another 261 are considered probable. Despite having fewer cases than Bradford County, Tioga County’s death toll is 94.

Wellsboro has 619 (up 2) confirmed cases with 71 probable cases.

Mansfield stands at 278 (up 4) cases with 27 probable.

Westfield has 148 cases with 20 probable.

Bloosburg has 128 cases with 13 probable.