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United plane that caught fire was flown without being repaired

During a flight last may, about 30 minutes after takeoff, flames shot into the cockpit from the window of a United Airlines airplane with 112 passengers on board, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. The flames extended 14 to 16 inches into the cockpit from the window near the captain. The captain quickly grabbed a nearby fire extinguisher to douse the flames, but after he initially had them under control, they reignited. A flight attendant brought him another fire extinguisher which he also emptied in an attempt to put out the fire. As the plane headed to Dulles Airport for an emergency landing, the inner pane of the window in front of the captain shattered. The first officer then took control of the plane and landed it safely.

Now, documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board show that the plane was allowed to take off without being repaired despite reported overheating of the electrical connection near the window on two previous flights. Another captain that had flown the same plane earlier in the day had reported fumes and an overheated electrical connection when he had landed the plane.

According to the pilot who had flown the plane earlier in the day, he showed a mechanic an electrical connection near the window that was charred and hot. He also informed the mechanic that there had been an unscheduled landing the day before because of smoke and fumes in the cockpit. Despite these warnings, the plane was allowed to fly without first being repaired. A spokeswoman for United said that the plane had been inspected and that they believed it was flight-worthy.

The mechanic who had given the go-ahead for the plane to fly said that the plane was cleared to fly without repairs because according to the United maintenance manual, a plane is allowed to be flown for an additional 50 hours after a burned or blackened window electrical connector is found. The electrical connection to the window heater had been a known issue with this aircraft.

Source: Chicago Tribune "United plane allowed to fly without repairs despite problems reported on 2 previous flights" March 21, 2011

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