On July 28th, 2010, United Airlines flight 852 from Tokyo Narita (NRT) to San Francisco International (SFO) experienced a CATASTROPHIC ENGINE FAILURE approximately 20 minutes following takeoff. Right after the flight attendant said they would start the meal service, the right engine on the Boeing 777 exploded while we were in the air. The power went out. The plane dropped. I was pretty sure I was going to die.
Then we started to level out. The power came back on. We waited for the pilot to come over the loudspeaker… for what seemed like ages…. was actually more like 5 or 10 minutes.
The pilot said that a bearing inside the engine had broken off and hit the turbine, causing the right engine to fail. We were going to make an emergency landing back at Narita, but we were too heavy to land, so we would have to make a fuel dump. As long as the left engine held out, we would make it back to Narita safe and sound. Which thankfully, it did.
Once the plane landed at Narita, passengers were not allowed off of the plane, since there was fuel dripping out, it could have erupted into flames during landing or taxi, killing us all. They had to make a long safety check before ever pulling into the gate. Once at the gate, we waited even longer to be let off the plane, as the Japanese Immigration people had to decide just what to do with us once we were off. This was the most time-consuming part of the entire ordeal.
After a few hours, Immigration had decided to issue all of the foreign passport holders who had been making connecting flights, and/or had cancelled visas in Japan temporary visitor visas, valid for 90 days. Japanese passport holders went through immigration first, their departures being cancelled. I was in the short line for people with re-entry permits, my departure also being cancelled.
Then we picked up our bags and went out to the parking lot, where there were buses waiting to take us to the Hotel Prince Takanawa in Shinagawa – a good hour and 30 minutes away from Narita. Not a soul had mentioned anything about re-booking.
I hadn’t had any food or water since I’d left for the airport on the bus at 11:30 that morning (save for some pretzels on the airplane) and it was now close to 1:00 in the morning. I was hungry, thirsty, and ready to get the hell out of Japan, but this unforeseen turn of events had thrown me back in and caused further stress.
We arrived at the hotel – a swanky business-type place with rooms larger than the average Japanese business hotel (they were about the size of a normal American hotel room). There was nothing to eat… and wouldn’t be until 6:00 in the morning.
In the meantime, I’d contacted my dad and told him about the entire harrowing experience. I guess at some point between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM dad had called United and managed to get me on a plane to Dulles.
After breakfast at the hotel (which at the time seemed like the best thing I’d ever eaten) it was back on the bus to the airport. I felt really sorry for all of the 300-some people who had to wait in line to re-book their flights. Luckily I escaped the nightmare, but I still had to wait in line to check-in for my new flight. For some reason United wouldn’t let me carry on my bag. I relented and checked it.
I was on my way to DC and slept from about Alaska to Montana. When I noticed on the map the the plane was circling…we were avoiding something, which luckily was only bad weather. However, this new maneuver had cost us 30 minutes, which meant I was going to have to run through the airport to make it to my flight to Pittsburgh.
The line to go through immigration at Dulles was INSANELY LONG. Then, I was angry that I had to check my bag back at Narita, so after I had gone through immigration, I had to take the time to wait for my stupid suitcase to go through customs. I waited and waited. The time was getting closer for the flight to Pittsburgh to board. Past boarding time. It was almost time for takeoff. STILL NO BAG. I collapsed on the floor. I was crying and wailing and carrying on. Hyperventilating, even. Stupid United had almost killed me and now was going to make me miss my flight home by not putting my bag on the goddamn luggage carousel?! I had a total nervous breakdown. Right there. In the airport. The TSA people had to calm me down. One TSA woman was really nice to me, she brought me some water and told me that they would send me my bag once it got to Dulles (or even Pittsburgh) since it was ticketed properly. She just kept telling me to go to gate A2. Make sure you get to A2. All of the flights are delayed, so you have plenty of time to get to A2.
After going through security (which was ANOTHER long line that took FOREVER) at Dulles, I ran. I ran to the gate. I was crying and my chest was tight and I was probably hyperventilating, but I ran anyway. I ran as fast as I could. I’d never been to Dulles, so I had no idea where gate A2 was, but I ran there anyway.
I got to the gate. They had just started boarding. I didn’t miss my flight. I think I hugged the flight attendant who was working at the desk when he said they hadn’t left yet. I collapsed on the floor again. I was crying again. I was saying a lot of things that didn’t make sense to people who were asking me what was wrong. I was SO HAPPY that I didn’t miss my flight home.
I was a complete mess. A bundle of nerves. My hair was disgusting. I could barely walk. I probably should have been drugged and put in some kind of safe place where I couldn’t cry and carry on like I had been. Then we got to Pittsburgh. EVERY GATE WAS UNOCCUPIED EXCEPT THE GATE WE WERE SUPPOSED TO GO TO. I was FURIOUS, but I couldn’t do anything. I was too exhausted. I just laughed.
I stopped at the baggage claim to see if my bag had made it. It didn’t. So I went home.
My bag was sitting on the front porch at 8:00 AM the next morning.