747 engine falls from the sky onto Anchorage neighborhood

Originally published April 1, 1993

A jet engine and a piece of wing ripped from an aging Boeing 747 as it flew over Anchorage Wednesday, showering tons of metal over an eastside neighborhood but injuring no one. The engine narrowly missed apartment buildings and a shopping mall, but smaller pieces of debris were strewn throughout the Boniface Parkway area. One woman discovered a hole in her roof and a chunk of aluminum on her bedroom floor.

“With all that weight falling down here, how not one person got hurt is beyond me,” said police Capt. George Novaky.

Hundreds of people were witnesses to the spectacle, and jammed emergency telephone lines to report the near-disaster.

The cargo jet, owned by Evergreen International Airlines, dumped its fuel over Cook Inlet before returning safely to Anchorage International Airport, 13 minutes after takeoff.

A wind-shear warning was in effect at the time, and the Federal Aviation Administration said other pilots reported severe turbulence in the area.

Andrea Saunders had just picked up her daughter, 10-year-old Breann, at Baxter Elementary School, about a quarter-mile from where the engine fell. She joined other spectators, including dozens of young schoolchildren.


“Thank goodness it didn’t hit the school,” Saunders said.

The crumpled engine rested in a snow berm less than 30 feet from an apartment building, just behind the Boniface Mall at Northern Lights Boulevard.

The dramatic airshow occurred about 12:35 p.m. on a bright and warm day marked by high, gusting winds. Mike Gault, a state transportation engineer, said he was picking up a truck at Tudor Road and Boniface when he heard the engines of the 747 racing in the sky above.

“Just as I looked up, the engine snapped off the plane,” he said. “It started doing all sorts of pitching and yawing. The motor dropped straight down.”

Gault watched as the 747 flew north and west toward the Inlet and saw the crew jettison the fuel over the water.

The jet, built in 1970, was owned by Evergreen and under contract to Japan Air Lines. It took off from Runway 6 at 12:32 p.m. carrying a “mixed cargo,” said Joette Storm, a spokeswoman for the FAA. Evergreen officials would not provide details of the contents.

Aviation officials said weather briefings warned pilots of moderate to severe turbulence in the Anchorage Bowl. The forecast said the turbulence included wind shear, a sudden and sometimes dangerous shift in wind direction.

The final decision on whether to fly through those winds is left up to pilots, Storm said.

Just minutes before the Evergreen plane took off, another unidentified Boeing 747 cleared the runway, Storm said.

Max Kelly was standing outside a building on East Dowling Road waiting for a ride to the airport as that first jet hit the turbulence in the same general area where the Evergreen flight would soon pass. He said the plane was rocked back and forth by what appeared to be a violent wind shear, and the pilot finally gained control of the aircraft.

A short while later, the Evergreen jet hit the turbulence four miles east of the runway and 1,800 feet above the ground, and one of the plane’s four engines and part of the left wing dropped off.

“There was a big flash,” Kelly said. “The pilot did some pretty wild maneuvering before he got her stabilized.”

The Evergreen flight crew reported moderate turbulence shortly after takeoff, according to Storm, then ran into severe turbulence as they began the turn that was to have taken them over Knik Arm. The crew then reported a yaw, or abrupt wobbling, and believed the engine separated at that point.

After the engine dropped, the pilot declared an emergency, circled over the Inlet and landed at the airport at 12:45 p.m. It was met by six fire engines.

Five people were on board the aircraft, according to Evergreen official Donna Nelson three crew members and two extra flight engineers riding as passengers.

As they walked down the stairs and reached the tarmac, a woman from the plane hugged a ground worker, said Mike McGinnis, an airport safety officer who saw the landing.

“It was an extremely serious situation and the pilot did an outstanding job of bringing it back,” said Tim Foster, chief of airport safety.


Shortly after the aborted Evergreen flight, a twin-engine Cessna turboprop ambulance plane took off but was forced to turn back due to turbulence, Storm said.

State and federal officials who rushed to investigate the Evergreen jet found that it lacked not only an engine but the leading edge of its left wing. A roughly 25-foot-long swath of the wing’s front was gone, revealing a raw gash that exposed a tangle of wire and tubing.

The leading edge assists the jet in lifting during takeoff and also helps slow its speed during landing, said Tim Borson, the National Transportation Safety Board’s chief inspector in Anchorage.

A team of NTSB investigators from Washington, D.C., including a metallurgist, is scheduled to arrive in Anchorage today to determine the cause of the accident. The FAA and Boeing are also sending investigators.

Two other Boeing 747s crashed after losing engines in the past 15 months. An El Al plane lost its No. 3 engine and crashed into a building in the Netherlands last October, and a China Air 747 lost its No. 3 engine in December 1991.

In both cases, the engine broke off at a fuse pin that connected it to the wing, Storm said. Pins are designed to break off and let the engine fall without damaging the wing. In Wednesday’s accident, the fuse pin was found with the demolished engine.

“It appears that the circumstances are somewhat different than those two previous accidents,” she said.

Telephone calls jammed the Anchorage Police Department’s emergency lines moments after the engine dropped. Officials instructed those who found debris to leave it in place for investigators to examine.


George Constantino came home from work Wednesday evening to find a hole the size of a garbage can through his two-story house on Wells Circle. There was a piece of airplane in his basement.

“It looks like what you would expect if a meteorite came down through your house,” he said. “It went right past the fish tank.”

At the Checkmate Plaza Apartments on Boniface, Barbara Bevelhymer took a break from folding her laundry to walk down to the grocery store for margarine and Easter candy to send to her children. She came home to her second-floor apartment to find a hole carved in the ceiling, pink insulation littering the room and a 31|2-foot chunk of metal sliced through her mattress.

“I was scared half to death. The first thing I thought was that someone had been up on the roof to start roofing and they had fallen through,” Bevelhymer said.

Some of the damage originally attributed to plane parts raining from the sky was actually caused by wild winds whipping through East Anchorage. Police spent much of the early afternoon trying to sort out the causes of damage, said Sgt. Marilyn Bailey. The wind blew out a picture window at a home on Beaver Place.

In the building next door to Bevelhymer’s, taxi driver Iasen Divchev woke from sleeping off his late shift to find his front door wide open and his kitchen window shattered. Police investigated that broken window, assuming that a plane part caused the damage, but neither the police nor Divchev found anything from the airplane.

Callers to the National Weather Service reported strong gusts ripping through East Anchorage, but there are no instruments to record winds there, said Roger Bulkow, an agency meteorologist.

Fort Richardson clocked wind speeds up to 40 mph and one Hillside resident with his own anemometer clocked speeds of 70 mph, Bulkow said.

Southcentral Alaska was pinched between a monster low-pressure system over the central Aleutian Islands and a high-pressure system over Canada. Anchorage got hit with winds when the air masses in Canada and the Aleutians created a strong pressure differential between Prince William Sound and Northern Cook Inlet, Bulkow said.

Daily News reporters Steve Rinehart, Bruce Melzer and Pamela Doto contributed to this story.

Marilee Enge

Marilee Enge is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.

Hal Bernton, The Seattle Times

Hal Bernton is a former reporter for The Seattle Times and the Anchorage Daily News.