Last night, a United flight from Newark Airport to Berlin, Germany was forced back to Newark after its engine caught fire. While United characterized Flight 96's problem as a "mechanical issue," a witness driving on the NJ Turnpike told the Star-Ledger, "We looked a little closer and there were fireballs coming out from under one of the wings. We heard a popping sound coming from the engine. It was a pretty scary sight, I’ve never seen anything like that in my life."
The flight had taken off before 6 p.m., but one passenger, Yaser Haj, said, "When the plane took off, it was shaking so much. We smelt it. We saw fire from the back." Haj said that the pilot quickly explained that debris entered the engine and they'd need to burn some fuel before landing. Which meant flying over NJ for two hours. One resident near the airport told the Post, "We heard, ‘Bang! Bang! Bang!' Everytime there was a bang there were flames coming out. The plane looked so low, I thought it was going to fall out of the sky."
According to the Star-Ledger, "Barbara Woodruff, a special agent with the F.B.I., said pieces of the tire were sucked into one of the plane’s engines shortly after takeoff. The Federal Aviation Administration said it could not confirm that. The incident, as initially described, was unusual. While passenger jets often experience blown tires, it is not common for such a problem to lead to an engine fire. In July 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed outside of Paris, killing 113 people, after runway debris led to a tire failure, puncturing a fuel tank on takeoff." The Boeing 757 used for Flight 96 is around 14 years old.
The plane landed around 8 p.m. and, while United helped passengers get other flights, Haj told the Post that he cancelled his travels, "I cancelled the flight. I don’t want to fly anymore."