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Passengers Alert United Airlines to Fuel Leak

Two passengers flying on United Airlines Flight 170 from Newark, New Jersey, to Venice may have averted catastrophe when they warned the crew about a fuel leak. Despite their heroic efforts, the passengers say United treated them poorly, and they will never fly the airline again. Although there are many safety precautions in place to protect passengers from an airline disaster, sometimes safety comes down to one or two alert people, who notice that something isn't right and say something about it.

Heroic Passengers Bound for Honeymoon 

The heroic passengers on United Airlines Flight 170 were a newlywed couple, flying to Venice, Italy, on June 13 for their honeymoon before a cruise on the Mediterranean. According to reports, as Rachel Brumfield and her husband Mike waited for the plane to take off, they looked out the window and noticed liquid was pouring out of the Boeing 767's wing. Mike attempted to alert crew, but was told to sit down. After Mike convinced the crew to look out the window, the crew alerted the pilot and co-pilot, who shut off the engine.

Ultimately, the plane didn't take off and passengers were forced to make other traveling arrangements. A statement from United acknowledged the incident.

"While taxiing to the runway yesterday evening, United flight 170 traveling from Newark to Venice, Italy returned to the gate due to a fuel leak, and was later cancelled. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience," said United spokesman, Jonathan Guerin.

Mechanical Issues Terrifying for Airline Passengers 

The passengers on United Airlines Flight 170 were lucky the fuel leak was noticed before the plane attempted to take off. In some cases, technical issues aren't discovered until the plane is already in the air. That's what happened to an AirAsia X flight from Perth, Australia, to Malaysia on Sunday, June 25. At around an hour and 15 minutes into the flight, passengers heard a loud bang and the plane began to shake. The pilot turned the plane around to fly back to Australia.

"[The plane] shook for the whole ride back, close on two hours," Damian Stevens, a passenger on the flight, told CNN.

"Like you were sitting on top of a washing machine," a passenger said to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The A330 plane has Rolls-Royce engines and is designed to fly safely and land with only one working engine. Remarkably, that didn't stop the pilot from asking the passengers to pray twice as they traveled back to Australia. Passengers also had to hold the brace position as the plane landed. It could be well argued that these decisions by the captain would add to passengers reflected his lack of confidence in a safe return and landing, and would add to passenger fear and anxiety.

Officials do not yet know what caused the plane's technical trouble. "We are aware of the incident and will be working closely with relevant partners to understand the cause of the issue," a spokesperson for Rolls-Royce said.

No injuries were reported in the incident.

Mechanical Issues on Planes Not a Thing of the Past 

Despite massive advances in airplane technology, mechanical issues are not a thing of the past, as the recent incidents in New Jersey and Australia highlight. Mechanical and technical issues can be caused by a variety of factors, including improper airplane maintenance and design or manufacturing defects with the plane. There are rules regarding how frequently airplanes must be inspected and undergo maintenance. Sometimes, human error during the inspection or maintenance allows a defect to go undetected until it's too late.

Luckily, in some cases passengers are alert and notice that something seems off. In such situations, it may be those passengers who prevent a disaster from taking place. Rachel and Mike Brumfield might have prevented a massive tragedy from occurring, simply by looking out the window and not being afraid to speak up.

Although they averted a disaster and were told by United Airlines that they would be taken care of, Rachel says the airline was terrible to them after they got off the plane.

"I will never fly United again," Rachel said. "Every person there was awful."

Aviation Attorney 

Fortunately, in circumstances such as the incidents concerning United flight 170 and Air Asia flight X, where alert passengers played key roles in protecting the safety of the flights, no lives were lost. But, emotional injuries can last a lifetime. In such cases, depending on the circumstances of the incident, lawsuits can be, and sometimes have been, filed against the airline on account of the fear, anxiety, and serious emotional distress caused by the sudden knowledge that one's airplane could, after all, crash.

If you or someone you love has been harmed by an aviation incident, contact us for a no-obligation consultation. Our attorneys are available to discuss your situation and explain your legal rights. We are committed to fighting for our clients' rights and advocating for airline safety.

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