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Originally published April 29, 2009 at 3:31 PM | Page modified April 30, 2009 at 12:47 AM

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Boeing plane makes emergency landing at Sea-Tac

SEATAC - A Boeing 777 bound for Seoul, Korea, landed safely this afternoon at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after losing power in one of its two engines.

Seattle Times staff reporters

A Boeing 777 bound for Seoul, Korea, landed safely this afternoon at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport after losing power in one of its two engines.

According to airport spokesman Perry Cooper, Asiana Airlines Flight 271 had departed as scheduled at around 2:25 p.m. The pilot reported to air traffic control, either during takeoff or immediately after, that an engine had somehow caught on fire, Cooper said.

Witnesses reported seeing flames coming from one of the engines.

The plane then circled the airport, dumping fuel over Puget Sound in preparation for an emergency landing. The plane then landed without incident.

There were no apparent injuries to the 179 passengers onboard nor was there obvious damage to the plane's engines, he said.

"We're not sure what happened or what caused it," Cooper said.

He said it's not unusual for a small amount of "flame out" to occur when a plane takes off.

FAA spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane is capable of flying with one engine.

The FAA will investigate the incident and provide a report to the National Transportation Safety Board, Fergus said.

Passengers said they didn't see flames or smell any smoke. From their seats adjacent to a wing on the plane, Harkeet Bhullar and her father heard a rattling noise shortly after takeoff. They looked out of their window and saw the engine "wiggle" and felt the plane shaking.

"Anyone on the plane could've known what was going on from the sound," Bhullar said.

But the commotion wasn't enough to stir passenger Harry Kim out of his slumber. He didn't wake up until the plane's crew roused him. Kim said most passengers remained calm.

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"People weren't scared. There wasn't a fear in the air," he said.

Unmi Hulderson, a Graham resident headed to Seoul to visit family, was sitting near the left engine and heard a "ta-ta-ta" sound. "There is no speed bump up here," she recalled saying to her neighbors. "Why the noise?"

The airline was putting up Hulderson and other passengers in a hotel near the airport.

British Columbia resident Pat Rolfe, who was sitting in business class, said he's flown to Seoul more than 20 times without any incident.

"The pilots did what they were trained to do and the airplane did what it was designed to do," Rolfe said. "You can't beat that."

It's not clear precisely how much fuel the aircraft dumped, or where, but those details could prove important, said Mike Sibley, an environmental engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He said jet fuel dumped at high altitudes tends to atomize and get diluted.

Kathy Palmer, the duty officer for EPA's emergency response unit, planned to call the airline and then the FAA to decipher the Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates for the fuel release.

In the meantime, state oil spill officials have heard reports from Kitsap County to Richmond Beach of people being hit by falling drops of fuel. The captain of the ferry Wenatchee reported a strong fuel odor and a sheen on the surface of Puget Sound about a mile off Bainbridge Island, but the sheen was dissipating quickly.

Jet fuel is similar in consistency to lighter fluid and tends to disperse faster than oil when it hits water, said Larry Altose, spokesman for the Department of Ecology. Often, in cases such as these, there is little or nothing to corral.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Seattle Times staff reporters Craig Welch, Steve Miletich and Maks Goldenshteyn and The Associated Press contributed to this report

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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