Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 with registration JA8978 heading from Okinawa-Naha Airport to Tokyo-Haneda Airport on December 4, 2020, experienced an inflight engine failure. An intense explosion was noticed on Flight JL904 from Pratt and Whitney engine number 1 after twenty minutes of takeoff. The pilot wanted to make an emergency landing at Naha airport and, with 178 passengers, including 11 crew members, switched the aircraft back to Naha. At around 14,000 feet, the pilots halted their ascent and headed to Naha, landing safely 30 minutes later. The crew and passengers both reported that they were healthy.
The initial analysis found that throughout the flight, the engine cowling seems to have fallen off. The Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism said that two fan blades became severed from the root.
About The Aircraft
As per the AV Herald, JA8978 was the aircraft involved and first operated in June 1997; the jet is 23.5 years old. It was shipped that month to Japan Air System, before being moved in April 2004 to Japan Airlines Domestic, and in October 2006 to Japan Airlines.
History of the same event
After the engine cowlings on both engines were cut clean off during takeoff, a British Airways owned Airbus A319 aircraft was compelled to undertake an emergency landing in 2013. The cowling section was pulled onto one of the turbines, contributing to a fire that caused the runway to be evacuated.
Investigators concluded that during scheduled repairs, aircraft mechanics had failed to secure the cowling covers.
The engine cowling on an Airbus A330-200 of China Eastern Airlines collapsed in 2017 and was ingested into the engine, but thankfully there were no recorded casualties. Sadly, a traveler died in a 2018 crash affecting a Boeing 737 run by Southwest Airlines when part of the cowling was pulled away from the engine and punctured a window opening.
In that crash, a faulty fan blade that had slipped free from the engine destroyed the cowling. Therefore, to avoid a similar tragic accident, Boeing was instructed to modify certain engine cowlings’ configuration.