United Airlines flight did not experience a fuel leak

28 March 2024
What was claimed

A United Airlines Boeing 777-300 flight between Sydney and San Francisco experienced a mid-air fuel leak and had to return to Sydney airport.

Our verdict

Not quite. While United Airlines Flight 830 between Sydney and San Francisco on 11 March did return to Sydney airport without completing its scheduled route, the airline has confirmed this was due to a hydraulic leak, not a fuel leak.

A number of posts on Facebook have claimed that a United Airlines flight between Sydney and San Francisco was forced to abandon its scheduled route and return to Sydney due to a “fuel leak”. 

It’s true that United Airlines Flight 830, a Boeing 777-300 plane, departed Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport on 11 March and returned to the airport without completing its scheduled route. But the airline confirmed this was due to a hydraulic leak, not a fuel leak. 

One post claims a “Boeing 777-300 aircraft operated by United Airlines was forced to execute an emergency landing on Monday due to a fuel leak encountered midair. The incident occurred during United Airlines Flight 830’s journey from Sydney to San Francisco, which was abruptly redirected two hours into the 14-hour flight due to a ‘maintenance issue’.”

Another says “a United Boeing 777 has been forced to land after a fuel leak during takeoff”.

A United Airlines spokesperson told Full Fact: “On Monday, March 11 United flight 830 from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport to San Francisco International Airport returned to Sydney due to a hydraulic leak. The plane landed safely and passengers deplaned normally at the gate. We provided accommodation overnight for passengers and rebooked them to San Francisco the next day.”

Footage of the apparent flight is visible in a YouTube video. What appears to be smoke is visible by the plane’s wheels after it has taken off; some of the Facebook posts appear to show the same footage, although it seems to have been cropped. 

As others have pointed out, the Boeing 777-300’s fuel tanks are located principally in the wings of the plane, while hydraulic reservoirs and accumulators are present in the aircraft’s wheels and wheel wells. A plane’s hydraulic system helps it control equipment such as landing gear, brakes and thrust. 

Claims like this can create alarm and cause people to feel disproportionately unsafe. It is important to check if information is true before sharing it—you can read our guides to identifying misleading images and videos here and here

We have written before about false claims relating to aircraft, including that a photograph shows the disappeared Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in the ocean and that a video shows the final moments of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed in 2019. 

Image courtesy of pkozmin.

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