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Video shows Southwest Airlines plane engine catch fire shortly after takeoff

Dramatic video captured the plane in distress before it landed safely at Houston's Hobby Airport.
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Flames burst from a Southwest Airlines jet in the sky near Houston, forcing the distressed plane into a hasty retreat and a safe landing, officials said Wednesday.

Flight 307 took off from Houston bound for the Mexican resort city of Cancún before it returned to Hobby Airport "on Tuesday night after experiencing a mechanical issue shortly after takeoff," Southwest said in a statement.

"The aircraft landed safely and was taken out of service for review," the airline added. "A different aircraft continued the flight to Cancun last evening, and we appreciate our Customers’ patience and support."

Video taken from the ground captured the terrifying scene of flames shooting from Flight 307's right engine, belying the routine exchange between pilot and tower arranging for its return to Hobby.

Mechanical engineer Andrew Sandino, 38, was leaving work near Hobby when he looked up and captured a moment of flames shooting out of an engine. But the scenes before he pointed his cellphone up through the sunroof of his truck were even scarier.

"I noticed big black plumes of smoke coming out the right engine, and then it started shooting really big fireballs out, and the plane was shifting back and forth, side to side, pretty heavily," Sandino said Thursday.

"I was thinking this plane may crash. If that engine just completely explodes and sends shrapnel everywhere, the plane is going to fizzle out and hit the ground," he said.

Flight 307 was in the air for only 16 minutes before passengers were back on the ground and were moved to a new plane.

Despite what appeared in the video, the plane was probably never in serious trouble, said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial airline pilot and a spokesperson for FlightAware, a company that provides flight-tracking services.

"I’ve flown, as a pilot, that route between Houston and Cancun many times," Bangs said. "While it wouldn’t be ideal to have an engine fire or failure over the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the jet can operate safely on one engine (and could've made it to Cancun)."

Southwest is one of the few major U.S.-based carriers to have never had a fatal crash.

In 2018, a New Mexico woman was killed when an engine exploded on a Southwest flight after it took off from New York. The blast sent shrapnel through one of the jet’s windows, and the victim was partly sucking out of the plane.