DENVER (CBS4) – Federal safety investigators on Monday talked with the pilots of United Airlines Flight 328 about how they handled the loss of an engine that exploded into flames as nervous passengers looked out the window and prayed on board. Among other pilots, there was a lot of credit for their work in getting the plane down safely.

(credit: CBS)

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“I’ve heard they did an absolutely wonderful, professional job with it. I admire their capability and their execution,” said Lou Jendras, a check instructor for Western Air and a former pilot with three major airlines.

“They did a great job getting back to DIA,” said Western Air’s Trimbi Szabo, who is also President of The Mile High Chapter of Women in Aviation and serves on the Colorado Aeronautics Board as a state representative for pilot organizations.

The two were talking about some of the ingredients in the success of the pilots of UA 328.

“The training that you receive before the ever let you out on the line to fly passengers is pretty thorough. And you get recurrent training every 6 to 12 months,” said Jendras. “And they will take you through different scenarios, one of which is always an engine failure for various causes.”

When the engine blew apart the pilots likely did an immediate assessment

“We have a problem. What is the problem? Let’s get out the checklist,” said Jendras.

Checklists are standardized lists of what to do in crisis.

“Well we don’t want to miss one single thing, so we can think ‘OK, we have a checklist, we’re going to go through it. We verify with the checklist out,’” said Szabo. “You want the crews to always follow the same procedure. Because crews change off.”

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(credit: CBS)

The checklists will contain items like what to do about fuel and airspeed and other settings.

“Number one, maintain straight and level flight. Diagnose, checklist. What checklist do we want, run that checklist. Does that checklist call for another checklist? Run that checklist. In the meantime, let us maneuver to the nearest suitable airport,” said Jendras about the thinking of pilots in crisis situations.

Each type of aircraft has a checklist. Pilots learn them and have guides, both contained in onboard computers and a written copy in the cockpit.  When things break down, there is a mantra in flying planes they share at Western Air and across piloting.

“We have a saying in aviation, first of all aviate, then navigate and finally communicate,” said Jendras.

Parts of the simple summary are expanded.

“Aviate means fly the airplane no matter what. Navigate means keep track of where you are and where you want to go. Communicate means let the guys on the ground know you’ve got a problem so they can help you out.”

(credit: CBS)

Tower communications reveal how the crew went through checklists and turned the plane around for DIA. No one was injured and the plane landed safely.

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“We visually go through the checklist and make sure that we’re not missing one single thing. Because that one single thing that we’ve missed could be the answer to what we’re doing,” said Szabo.

Alan Gionet