Passenger aboard United flight from Hawaii remembers terrifying start


As their plane crashed toward the sea, Rod Williams II and his wife, Abbey, exchanged a look and an unspoken message to their two children sitting between them.

Less than two minutes earlier, United Airlines Flight 1722 had taken off from Maui Airport at around 2:45 p.m. on December 18. According to tracking site Flightradar24, he ascended 2,200 feet in the next 71 seconds. The Boeing 777 then dived about 1400 feet in 18 seconds, coming within 250 feet of crashing into the Pacific Ocean. Instead, the pilots stopped, climbed to cruising altitude, and continued their flight destination San Francisco without any other problems.

No one was injured and the cause of the rapid descent remains unclear. The National Council for Transport Safety said Tuesday that it is investigating what happened and plans to issue a preliminary report within two to three weeks. In a statement to The Post, United Airlines said the pilots, who have logged about 25,000 hours of flying experience, filed a safety report on the incident when they landed in San Francisco. United worked with the Federal Aviation Administration and the pilots’ union on an investigation, resulting in more training for the two pilots.

“Safety remains our top priority,” the airline said in the statement.

United Airlines flight plunged 400 feet toward the ocean off Hawaii

Williams, a 35-year-old realtor in Lancaster, Ohio, flew from Columbus to Maui via San Francisco on Dec. 10 with his wife and their two children: a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. They met Williams’s parents and siblings at his father’s vacation timeshare as an extended family.

The following week, the Williams clan went whale watching, hiking and swimming under waterfalls. They roamed for shells and crabs, and spent hours on the beach, sometimes slurping mango smoothies.

“It was definitely an amazing vacation,” he told The Washington Post.

Then, after seven full days, it was time to leave paradise. The Williamses grabbed one last breakfast and headed to the airport for their flight, which was scheduled to depart Kahului Airport at around 2:30 PM.

The weather was terrible that day, Williams said. Storms drenched the island with 1.85 inches of rain, more than doubling the previous record for the day.

Boarding and taxiing went smoothly, he said. The pilots brought the Boeing 777 straight onto the runway, throttled, accelerated off the runway and took off. They climbed normally for about a minute.

Then the nose went up and the plane began to rise at “an alarming angle,” Williams wrote in a Facebook post recounting the incident.

“That’s when you started hearing people utter some cries,” he told The Post.

Williams, who studied aviation, said he feared the plane would stall. After climbing steeply for three to five seconds, the aircraft entered a sudden nosedive.

“More screaming,” he said.

Again, Williams looked across his two children to his wife, both of whom understood the gravity of the danger. They were scared. He started praying to God to send angels to help the pilots fly and land the plane safely.

Then “an unusual peace” came over him.

“You kind of have to accept that because there’s nothing you can do to change what’s going on,” he said.

After diving for nearly 20 seconds, the aircraft lifted “at a very high speed”. Williams clenched his teeth, squeezed his armrests, pushed back in his chair, and continued to murmur prayers.

Williams said that because the plane was shrouded in clouds during the drop, he didn’t know how close the plane got to the ocean when it crashed and suspects no one else did either. That’s probably why he hasn’t seen any posts about what happened on social media in the days and weeks since, he added.

The plane leveled and it was over. Flight attendants made the rounds to reassure nervous passengers. About 10 minutes after they pulled out of the dive, one of the pilots spoke to them over the intercom.

“Well folks, you probably felt a few Gs on that one, but you’ll be fine,” the pilot said, referring to the gravity passengers felt, according to Williams’ Facebook post. “We’ll be fine.”

Williams took his 7-year-old son to the bathroom after the seatbelt sign went off. While guarding the door while his son was inside, Williams said, he overheard one flight attendant asking another if things like that happened often.

“I couldn’t hear his reaction, but it was clear the crew was as surprised as we were,” he wrote on Facebook. Williams praised the entire crew “for their instincts and experience which led us to land safely.”

Williams escorted his son back to their seats, landing in San Francisco some four hours later.

“That feeling when the wheels hit the ground and the pilot engaged the reverse thrusters and then came to a full (and safe) landing… the whole cabin cheered and clapped in celebration!” He wrote.

36 injured in turbulence on Hawaiian Airlines flight

Williams said the December 18 flight didn’t make him afraid to fly or to do so with United. Hawaii’s tumultuous weather affected others that day. Williams’s parents flew out a few hours later on a flight so turbulent that some passengers burst into tears, he said. “Severe turbulence” on a Hawaiian Airlines flight entering Honolulu earlier that day injured 36 passengers, 11 of them seriously.

But Williams said he still wants to travel. He wants his family to go on a trip. They’ll have some flashbacks when they first fly again “sure,” but it’s something they can put up with.

“You only live once,” he said, “and if we let fear control us, we’re going to miss so much.”

Ian Duncan contributed to this report.






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