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Couple Reveals What Happened in Cabin of United Flight That Took a 1,400 Foot Nosedive Toward the Sea

The plane was five seconds away from slamming into the ocean.

What caused a United Airlines flight to nosedive within 800 feet of the Pacific Ocean? While an official investigation into the incident is ongoing and reports won't be released for another few weeks, it's safe to assume passengers on the terrifying flight will never forget it—and that includes Rod Williams II and his wife Abbey, who were flying from Hawaii to San Francisco with their two children.

"Life is a gift," Rod wrote in social media post. "While I knew something was wrong with that sequence as it was happening and told close friends/family of the encounter when I got home, I chose to keep it quiet from my kids and not dwell on it. I chose to not live in fear and had no reason to share with them what I thought happened to cause them to be afraid of flying again." Here's what the couple have to say about their experience.

Terrifying Takeoff


United Airlines flight 1722 took off from Maui at 2.45 pm on December 18, 2022, en route to San Francisco. According to tracking site FlightRadar, minutes after takeoff, the plane nosedived from 2,200 feet, descending to 775 feet before recovering and climbing back up again. The plane continued to San Francisco with no other issues.

Terrible Storms On the Day Of Departure

Rod Williams II/Facebook

The Williams family—who are from Lancaster, Ohio—spent a magical week in Maui before heading home. "It was definitely a great vacation," Rod said. On the day of their departure, Rod noticed how terrible the weather was, with rainy storms battering the island.

"We lifted off the ground at a normal rate of climb, with the nose pitched up. Shortly into the climb, the nose pitched up even higher, but now at an alarming angle," Rod explained. "This is when we felt something could be wrong. There were a few screams let out at this point and heavy breathing/gasps were heard throughout the cabin."

The Plane Nosedives Towards Ocean

united airlines plane
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock

Rod, who studied aviation, was worried the plane would stall. "Within 3-5 seconds of the nose pointing upward, the nose was immediately dropped (much like in a stall recovery effort) and the plane sped towards the ground/sea," he said. "At this point, it was obvious the pilots were taking countermeasures to keep us in the air. During the vast majority of this sequence, we were in the clouds and visibility was zero or nearly so."

No One Could See What Was Happening

aerophobia concept
diy13 / Shutterstock

Rod says he was thankful for the lack of visibility. "This, to me, was the silver lining, as most (if not all) were unaware of how low we were when the descent started. Even so, the cabin was obviously becoming a little more frantic… a few more screams… some louder prayers and whiter knuckles. I looked across my two children over to my wife, both of us understanding the depth of the situation and possible risk that was at hand. Were we frightened? Yes. We are human, who wouldn't be. I started saying the Lord's prayer in my mind and praying: 'God, if this isn't our time, please send your angels to help the pilots and to lift this plane back to safety.'"

Staying Calm In the Face of Disaster


Rod explains there was a feeling of calm once he realized they were powerless. "Even so, there was an unusual peace that settled in and a sense of gratitude at that moment," he says. "I cannot explain it… words don't suffice and I'm going to fail if I try. It's a peace and gratitude that stems from a faith in God and knowing that someone greater ultimately holds your destiny. That's as close as I can put it."

The Pilot Reassures the Passengers

A commercial airline pilot pressing controls in the cockpit

Rod says after nosediving for 10 seconds, the plane climbed back up again and reached cruising altitude. "Well folks, you probably felt a couple G's on that one, but it's going to be okay," the pilot said over the intercom, according to Rod's account. "We're going to be just fine." Rod says passengers on the plane were understandably rattled by what had happened.

"Folks were consistently asking the Attendants if everything was okay, is the pilot okay?, had they experienced something like that before? I give tremendous kudos to the Flight Attendants, as they answered all of these questions with grace and were able to ease the environment within the cabin to help keep folks calm by assuring them we would be okay. Sometimes, that's all you need to hear: 'It's going to be okay.'"

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Praise For Pilots and Airlines

Rod Williams II/Facebook

Rod says there was applause when the plane finally touched down in San Francisco. "Life is too short to live in fear!" he says. "It's too short to point fingers. Instead, look at the miracle that life is! Aviation and flight are a modern-day miracle! You're sitting in a metal tube with 300+ people, traveling at 600 mph at 30,000 feet in the air, across the Pacific Ocean….AND WE LANDED SAFELY! Flying is still an extremely safe way to travel, which is why a news story like this….where nobody died or was injured… makes international headlines. THANK YOU, United, for getting us home safely! While I hope to understand more about what happened as a way for the industry to better predict or train for these scenarios, I'm not here to point fingers. I am simply thankful to be home safe with my family."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more
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