Boeing 747 cargo plane drops engine parts in Netherlands, investigation launched


AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - An incident involving a Boeing 747-400 cargo plane that dropped engine parts after a mid-air explosion and fire over the southern Netherlands on Saturday is under investigation, the Dutch Safety Board said.

The Longtail Aviation cargo plane, flight 5504, scattered small metal parts over the Dutch town of Meerssen, causing damage and injuring a woman shortly after take-off, Maastricht Airport spokeswoman Hella Hendriks said.

The Bermuda-registered plane, which was headed from Maastricht to New York, was powered by Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines, a smaller version of those on a United Airlines Boeing 777 involved in an incident in Denver, also on Saturday.

After that incident, Boeing recommended airlines suspend operations of certain older versions of its 777 airliner powered by Pratt & Whitney 4000-112 engines, variants currently flown by five airlines.

U.S. regulators announced extra inspections and Japan suspended their use while considering further action.

In the Dutch incident, witnesses heard one or two explosions shortly after take-off and the pilot was informed by air traffic control that an engine was on fire, Hendriks said.

"The photos indicate they were parts of engine blade, but that's being investigated," she said. "Several cars were damaged and bits hit several houses. Pieces were found across the residential neighbourhood on roofs, gardens and streets."

Longtail Aviation said it was "too early to speculate as to what may have been the cause of the problem" and that it was working with Dutch, Belgian, Bermuda and UK authorities looking into the incident.

Dozens of pieces fell, Hendriks said, measuring around 5 centimetres wide and up to 25 centimetres long. The aircraft landed safely at Liege airport in Belgium, some 30 kilometres (19 miles) south of the Dutch border.

Boeing referred questions to Dutch authorities.

"Our investigation is still in a preliminary phase, it is too early to draw conclusions," a spokeswoman for the Dutch Safety Board said on Monday.

Europe's EASA aviation regulator said on Monday that it was aware of the Pratt & Whitney jet engine incidents, and was requesting information on the causes to determine what action may be needed.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Anthony Deutsch; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jason Neely)

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