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Terror in the sky: Engine falls off plane, pilot flies to safety

  • Story Highlights
  • Nationwide Airlines pilot dumped fuel until he landed plane Wednesday
  • An object was sucked into the engine as the nose wheel lifted from the ground
  • 100, including crew, were on the plane; no one was injured
  • Plane passenger: "Everyone started panicking"
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(CNN) -- Brendon Pelser said he saw pure terror in the faces of his fellow passengers after an engine fell from a wing as it took off from Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday.

Men were sweating profusely, women were crying.

"There was fear on their faces," Pelser said. "Everyone started panicking."

But the pilot of Nationwide Airlines' Boeing 737 Flight CE723 was able to fly long enough to dump fuel and make an emergency landing at Cape Town International Airport.

Including crew, 100 hundred people were on the plane that departed at 3:50 p.m. on an hourlong flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. No one was injured.

The jet had only been in the air about 10 minutes before the engine fell.

"We heard something crash and bang, the plane veering left and right. A person on the right side said the engine was missing -- had broken clean off," said Pelser. Video Watch Pelser describe how the flight crew told passengers to "prepare for the worst" »

"They flew us in very slowly. We were all prepared for the worst. We went into the fetal position, head between the legs," he said. "Then we hit the runway."

"I did kind of pray. I didn't want to die. I'm not really ready to die," the 33-year-old said.

An object had been sucked into the engine as the nose wheel lifted from the ground and officials are trying to identify it.

The engine-to-wing supporting structure is designed to release an engine "when extreme forces are applied," to prevent structural damage to the wing, Nationwide said on its Web site.

The airline described the incident as a "catastrophic engine failure."

As the nose wheel lifted from the ground, "the captain heard a loud noise immediately followed by a yaw of the aircraft (sideways slippage) to the right," the airline said in a news release.

The flight instruments showed the No. 2 engine on the right side had failed, it said.

Pelser said he spent the night in Cape Town, then flew back to Johannesburg where he lives, on the same airline.

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Nationwide said the engine had undergone a major overhaul in March 2005 at "an approved Federal Aviation Authority facility in the U.S.A." and had flown only 3,806 hours since then.

"These engines typically achieve 10,000 hours between major overhauls," Nationwide Airlines' press release stated. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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