No emergency landing over missing panel on United Airlines flight | Fact check


The claim: United flight made emergency landing in Oregon after panels fell off mid-flight

A March 15 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) includes images of a passenger airplane that appears to be damaged.

“JUST IN – United Airlines Boeing 737 from San Francisco makes emergency landing in Medford, Oregon due to lost aircraft panels mid-flight,” reads the post’s caption.

The post garnered more than 200 likes in less than a week. Another version of the claim spread widely on X, formerly Twitter.

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Our rating: Partly false

A post-landing inspection found a panel missing (contrary to the post’s claim of multiple panels) on a United Airlines flight that landed at Medford Airport in Oregon. But that airport was the flight’s intended destination and there was “no emergency landing,” according to United.

Photo and missing panel are legitimate, but claim of unplanned landing isn’t

United Airlines Flight 433 departed from San Franciso International Airport on March 15 and landed safely at Medford Airport in Oregon around 11:30 a.m. A post-landing inspection found a missing panel on the plane, a Boeing 737, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The images included in the Instagram post are from that flight, according to the Rogue Valley Times, a newspaper based in Medford, Oregon.

However, the flight “did not make an emergency landing,” said United Airlines spokesperson Erin Jankowski.

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 for United Airlines parked at Renton Municipal Airport adjacent to Boeing's factory in Renton, Washington, on Jan. 25, 2024.

A Boeing 737 MAX 8 for United Airlines parked at Renton Municipal Airport adjacent to Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, on Jan. 25, 2024.

The plane “landed safely at its scheduled destination” in Medford, at which point the discovery was made, Jankowski said.

The airline did a “thorough examination” of the aircraft and made the necessary repairs before it was used again, Jankowski said.

Fact check: Video shows staged pronoun argument with flight attendant, not real dispute

Various news outlets also reported the missing panel was only discovered after the plane arrived at its destination. The photos included in the Instagram post were taken at the scene, according to the Rogue Valley Times.

Both United Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration are continuing to investigate the matter, which came amid a wave of incidents that have sparked concern about the safety of air travel.

USA TODAY has debunked an array of false claims involving major airlines, including that a man who jumped from an emergency exit on a Southwest Airlines flight was Israeli-American, that pilots started training for sudden pilot death in 2022 and that American Airlines pilots who took the COVID-19 vaccine died during flights.

USA TODAY reached out to users who shared the post for comment but did not immediately receive a response.

Reuters also debunked the claim.

Our fact-check sources:

  • Erin Jankowski, March 22, Email exchange with USA TODAY

  • Associated Press, March 16, Older Boeing plane found to have missing panel after flight from California to southern Oregon 

  • Federal Aviation Administration, March 15, FAA Statements on Aviation Accidents and Incidents 

  • KABC-TV, March 15, United plane apparently loses external panel mid-flight after taking off from SFO, officials say 

  • New York Times, March 15, United Airlines Flight Arrives at Oregon Airport Missing an External Panel 

  • Rogue Valley Times, March 15, Missing panel grounds 25-year-old Boeing jet at Medford airport; no injuries 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: United flight realized panel was missing after landing | Fact check





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