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We Thought We Were Gonna Die': A Terrifying Flight and a Surprise Diversion to a Tiny Atoll

"I said, 'I love you,' and I kissed her, and we told each other goodbye."

The malfunctioning plane, safely landed on Midway. (Image source: screengrab via ABCNews)

Most know the name Midway from the famous World War II battle, but a plane full of frightened passengers became intimately acquainted with the remote atoll Thursday night after mechanical errors threatened to down their aircraft.

The malfunctioning plane, safely landed on Midway. (Image source: screengrab via ABCNews) The malfunctioning plane, safely landed on Midway. (Image source: screengrab via ABCNews)

"That plane... it just fell, I don't know how far," passenger Timothy Willingham told ABCNews. "I looked at my wife, and I said, 'I love you,' and I kissed her, and we told each other goodbye, because we thought we were gonna die."

Willingham was one of the 335 passengers aboard a United Boeing 777, flying between Hawaii and Guam.

(Image source: screengrab via ABCNews) Timothy Willingham. (Image source: screengrab via ABCNews)

The plane began to make an unexpected detour after shaking, and passengers reported a burning smell filled the craft.

Radar systems and cockpit electricity apparently started going out as the plane redirected, turning north towards the tiny Midway.

The plane managed to land, and the passengers and crew spent an uncomfortable night in an old gymnasium — Midway used to house the Midway Naval Air Station but now is home to a mere 50-odd U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service members — before getting on a replacement plane to complete their journey Friday.

It was a tumultuous experience.

"I believe, with all my heart, that we landed on angels' wings," Willingham said.


ABC News | ABC Sports News

United has not released specifics of what went wrong, blaming the debacle on vague "mechanical malfunctions."

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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