One of the four tires of the right landing gear of the Boeing 767 apparently blew out as United Flight 16 took off from Los Angeles on Monday afternoon for a nonstop trip to New York, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Suspecting that a tire had blown out, the pilots flew back close enough to the LAX tower so air traffic controllers could confirm that one tire had blown and a second had failed.
The plane dumped fuel over the ocean before landing at about 7:20 p.m.
Before landing, the flight crew told passengers about the tire problem and asked them to move to either the very front or back rows of the plane, apparently to better distribute the weight for the emergency landing.
"Everyone was calm," said Shira Perlmutter, a lawyer from New York. "Even the kids across from me were calm. It was the easiest frightening experience I ever had."
Passengers, who were bused to the terminal to await a later flight, said they could not tell that the tire had blown.
"The only thing you could tell is that it felt like a flat tire when we landed," said Fred Kramer, a passenger headed home to New York.
The passengers waited in a first class lounge until boarding the later flight.
"There was booze," Kramer said. "A lot of people had a drink."