(HONOLULU) — A United Boeing 777 diverted to the tiny Pacific island of Midway Thursday night after a burning smell filled the plane while it flew over one of the most remote places on earth.
The airline will only say it was a mechanical issue. But this may have been a fairly serious incident. No one was hurt but those on board had the scare of their lives, says Teresita Smith from Maryland, who was traveling onboard with 25 family members.
“The smell was getting stronger…it smelled like something burning,” she told ABC News in a phone interview Friday from Honolulu.
The departure had originally been delayed in Honolulu because of the odor but was cleared for takeoff for the eight-hour flight to Guam after about three hours, she said.
And then five hours into the flight the smell returned. ”In the back section of the plane, alarms were going off,” Smith said. Then after the pilot announced the plane would be diverting to Midway, the power seemed to go out and the plane dropped precipitously. ”It was very scary,” she said. “It shook a lot of people up.”
The captain told passengers that there were electrical problems in the cockpit and the radar had gone out, she added.
Once on the island, which is mostly deserted and holds an abandoned military base, the passengers were forced to wait six hours in an old gymnasium on the former base until a replacement plane arrived.
About 30 people who live on the island came by with food for the passengers. “These people brought all the food they had to us,” she said, adding that people were very grateful for the effort.
The passengers are now back in Honolulu without their luggage, which is still on the plane stuck on Midway. The locals had no way to get the luggage off the plane.
She said they felt like they were in an episode of Lost with a broken plane on a remote island in the middle of the night.
United confirmed that the plane is still on Midway. In response to Smith’s account the airline will only say it was a mechanical issue. She says she did a lot of praying on board.
Midway is an unorganized, unincorporated US territory that played a big part in World War II because of its strategic location. It’s 3,200 west of California in the dead center of the vast Pacific.
Midway is an emergency diversion point for transpacific flights. It has been used before, but rarely, as a place where planes go when they have a problem over the Pacific Ocean and can’t make it back to Hawaii.
Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio
Madeline Holcombe, CNN
Dakin Andone, CNN
Dylan Byers, CNN
Emanuella Grinberg and Kwegyirba Croffie, CNN