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A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX plane — the same model that has been grounded after two recent crashes — made an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon at Orlando International Airport, a spokeswoman said.
There were no passengers aboard. Two pilots were flying to California when they encountered engine problems about 10 minutes after takeoff, said Rod Johnson, spokesman for the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.
They turned around and landed safely, Johnson said. It happened around 3 p.m.
According to the online flight-tracking service FlightAware, the plane was going to Victorville, Calif., which is about 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It was being flown there for storage, Johnson said.
The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed the emergency landing in a statement.
“The crew of Southwest Airlines Flight 8701, a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, declared an emergency after the aircraft experienced a reported engine problem while departing from Orlando International Airport in Florida about 2:50 p.m. today,” the statement said. “The aircraft returned and landed safely in Orlando. No passengers were aboard the aircraft, which was being ferried to Victorville, Calif., for storage. The FAA is investigating.”
Dan Landson, a spokesman for Southwest, said it was a “ferry flight” to California for temporary storage. He said the pilots followed protocol and there were no injuries.
“The Boeing 737 MAX 8 will be moved to our Orlando maintenance facility for a review,” Landson said.
According to a March 13 FAA order that grounded all Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the country, airlines are allowed to fly the planes without any passengers to a base for storage or maintenance.
The emergency landing comes as federal regulators continue to investigate two deadly crashes involving the plane model. Aviation authorities across the globe grounded Boeing 737 Max aircraft following the crashes in Ethiopia and off the coast of Indonesia.
A Lion Air flight crashed into the Java Sea after taking off from an airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, Oct. 29, killing 184 passengers and five crew members. On March 10, an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Kenya crashed six minutes after takeoff, killing 149 passengers and eight crew.
Southwest has 34 Max aircraft. On Saturday, the company began flying them to a facility in Victorville, without passengers, to free up space at the airports where they had been parked.
One runway at OIA is closed while officials conduct an inspection. No other flights were affected, GOAA spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell.
Southwest and American Airlines are the two largest domestic owners of 737 Max 8 and 9 aircraft, and are among five airlines that were flying the planes out of Orlando International Airport prior to their grounding, along with WestJet, Air Canada and Gol.
The Associated Press and staff writer Kevin Spear contributed to this report.