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Updated Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 06:30 AM

New United Airlines 787 in emergency landing

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

A new United Airlines 787 Dreamliner flying from Houston to Newark, N.J., had to make an emergency landing Tuesday morning in New Orleans when “a mechanical issue” arose after departure, the airline said.

United Flight 1146 landed safely and without incident, with 174 passengers and 10 crew members aboard.

The cause was not immediately clear.

On a recording of the air traffic control exchanges as the plane headed toward New Orleans, the pilot is heard calmly telling the Houston control center that “we had an electrical malfunction.”

A person at Boeing with knowledge of the incident said the pilot observed “multiple messages” indicating some system errors, and decided to divert “out of an abundance of caution.”

The electrical panels in the jet’s electronics bay were inspected after landing and showed no sign of arcing. There was no fire, the person said.

That suggests this incident is unrelated to an incident two years ago on a flight-test plane, when an electrical short in one of the electronics-bay panels started a serious fire.

“United will work with Boeing to review the diversion and determine the cause,” airline spokeswoman Christen David said in a statement.

Boeing’s 787 spokeswoman, Lori Gunter, said the company is working with United “to further understand the event.”

The jet is the newest of three Dreamliners delivered to United, the first U.S. carrier to fly the 787. The plane was delivered from Everett on Nov. 20.

The plane took off from Houston at 8:06 a.m. CST, according to live flight-tracking data from Flightaware.com.

Forty minutes into the flight, just after it crossed the Mississippi River, the plane descended from 40,000 to 30,000 feet and its speed dropped quickly from 600 mph to 480 mph before resuming the higher speed, the Flightaware data shows.

The plane then diverted south and landed in New Orleans at 9:25 a.m.

Firetrucks met the airplane as it landed, as is standard when an emergency is declared. The airline put passengers on a different aircraft to get them to Newark.

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com


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