Debris from a brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner's engine fell onto the runway and into the grass at Charleston International Airport Saturday afternoon, sparking a fire, shutting down the airport and diverting flights for more than an hour.
“A 787 experienced an engine issue today while undergoing preflight runway testing in North Charleston,” Boeing SC spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said Saturday night.
The gravity of the mishap spurred an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, Eslinger added.
“After the investigation, we will determine what went wrong and come up with a remedy,” she said.
The unpainted 787 involved in the incident was the latest one built at the sprawling Boeing campus in North Charleston, Eslinger said. General Electric made the engine that was installed in the plane, she said.
No one was injured in the mid-afternoon incident, and it will not affect production, Eslinger said.
Charleston Air Force Base, which owns the runways that are jointly used by the airport, declared a ground emergency at 4:07 p.m. when a grass fire erupted on the airfield, Air Force spokeswoman Rose Alexander said.
Emergency crews then discovered metal debris on the approach to the airport's only operational runway and ordered it shut down to complete a sweep of the 7,000-foot landing strip, Alexander said.
The airport's main 9,000-foot runway is out of commission as it undergoes a complete overhaul over the next few months.
“Our folks came to look at the debris to see if it was from a military aircraft,” Alexander said. “It was not from one of our C-17s.”
The shutdown caused two flights to be diverted, airport spokeswoman Becky Beaman said.
A Mesa Air flight for US Airways from Charlotte and a Shuttle America flight for Delta from Detroit were diverted to Savannah, spokesmen for US Airways and Delta confirmed Saturday. Both flights later arrived in Charleston.
The incident also affected a Southwest flight on takeoff at 4:04 p.m.
The pilot reported striking something on the runway, according to Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. The flight landed in Nashville, Tenn., as a precaution to be checked out. Nothing wrong was found, and it continued on to Chicago, he said.
“(The debris) did not come off of our airplane,” Hawkins said.
The airport closed around 4:30 p.m. and reopened at 5:41 p.m., Beaman, the airport spokeswoman, said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.