A jet engine on an America West Boeing 757 failed as the plane was taking off from John Wayne Airport Monday morning, but the pilot was able to turn back toward the runway and land safely.
A spokesman for America West said the landing was uneventful and that the 157 passengers aboard were never in any danger. The plane was on Flight 4 bound for Phoenix.
Some witnesses reported hearing a bang or a small explosion just after the twin-engine jetliner rose above the runway about 7:30 a.m. When the pilot realized that there was a problem, America West spokesman Dick Shimizu said, he shut off the engine on the plane's right side and banked to approach for a landing. The pilot radioed the control tower to summon airport fire crews, Shimizu said, but the plane taxied to the gate without incident.
Shimizu said that the cause of engine failure is under investigation but that the source is believed to be a failed air compressor. The engine was manufactured by Rolls-Royce.
Shimizu said Flight 4 passengers were either put on later America West flights or on other airlines.
Mike Brewer, an Orange Coast College student and aspiring pilot, watched the plane's takeoff and landing from atop the new parking structure at the airport. Brewer said the pilot never appeared to have difficulty controlling the craft. "It was a normal takeoff and all of a sudden I saw a lot of smoke come out of the engine," Brewer said. After he spotted the puff of smoke, Brewer said, the plane began turning to the right.
Fire Capt. Gary Wuchner, who watched the takeoff from the tower, said he saw a momentary burst of flame from the rear of the right engine after the plane had risen to about 500 feet.
"He made a real good turn," Wuchner said of the pilot. "He sort of yawed to the right."