INCIDENT: A330 Engine Fan Blade Fracture, Vibrations In Flight

By Spyros Georgilidakis | December 4, 2023

The pilots of a China Eastern Airbus A330 had to divert after an engine failure, possibly uncontained, which also caused severe vibrations.

This incident happened on Sunday the 3rd of December. It involved China Eastern Flight MU-721, which departed from Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport (ZSSS). Its destination was Hong Kong International (VHHH), This is a regular daily flight, departing Shanghai at 8:10 AM.

The incident aircraft. Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

On the day of the incident, the flight departed with a twenty-minute delay, using runway 36R. The aircraft climbed to a cruising altitude of 10,400 meters, or FL341. But just as they were about to overfly the city of Xiamen, the passengers and crew of the A330 heard a loud bang, coming from the left engine, followed by intense vibrations.

A passenger filmed the shaking aircraft shortly after the event. The flight crew immediately started descending and diverted to Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport (ZSAM). The vibrations coming from the left engine of the A330 persisted, even after the flight crew shut it down.

INCIDENT: A330 Engine Fan Blade Fracture, Vibrations In Flight
Photo: @JacdecNew at X

A330 Lands With Engine Vibrations

From their position at the time of the incident, the flight crew had to continue flying south, to travel enough distance to descend. Thankfully, they landed safely on runway 05 in Xiamen, approximately 20 minutes after leaving their cruise altitude.

INCIDENT: A330 Engine Fan Blade Fracture, Vibrations In Flight
The damage on top of the cowling, just in front of the engine pylon. Photo: @JacdecNew at X

Besides the loud bang and engine vibrations, the passengers of the A330 stated that there were tractor-like noises and a strong burning smell in the cabin, following the damage. Images showing the aircraft on the ground reveal that large sections of at least two fan blades are missing.

Even when not running, the engine of the A330 would have been windmilling, explaining the vibrations. At this time, it is not clear if this was an uncontained failure. A photo shows damage and a hole in the upper section of the engine cowling.

The incident aircraft. Photo: N509FZ, CC BY-SA 4.0

But it is not clear if a high-energy engine part caused this damage. We also have no reports at this time of any further damage to the rest of the airframe. The aircraft is a six-and-a-half-year-old Airbus A330-300. It has Rolls-Royce Trent 700 (772C-60) engines. It is still in Xiamen, as of this writing.

Before this A330 incident, we have seen other cases where missing engine fan blades caused severe vibrations on a flight. A number of 777-200 incidents come to mind. But those involved Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. These engines were much older than the Rolls-Royce Trent engines of this aircraft – assuming that the engines are as old as the plane itself.


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