A Plane Lost Its Roof at 24,000 Feet But Managed to Land

You’ve probably seen Hollywood movies where
a hole in the side of a plane causes utter chaos: food trays and bags flying, seat belts
unable to keep passengers in place… Luckily, in reality, small damage to fuselage
won’t have such dramatic consequences. But a big opening in a plane’s side will. So would you believe me if I told you a pilot
managed to land a plane with its much of it’s roof torn completely off?! Buckle up! At 1:25 pm, on April 28, 1988, a 19-year-old
Boeing 737 that belonged to Aloha Airlines left Hilo International Airport and headed
for Honolulu. The plane was named after Queen Liliuokalani,
who was the last sovereign monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi. On that day, the aircraft already had three
short flights from Honolulu to Hilo, Maui, and Kauai. All of the trips were regular and uneventful,
the weather was calm, and it seemed like nothing could go wrong. The captain was experienced pilot Robert Schorns-theimer,
44 years old, who had 6,700 flight hours in the Boeing 737. As for the first officer, it was Madeline
Tompkins, 36 years old, who had flown more than 3,500 hours in the very same Boeing model. Early in the morning, still in Honolulu, the
first officer had conducted the regular pre-flight inspection and announced that the plane was
ready for the flight. At 11 AM, the plane left Honolulu and headed
for Maui and then to Hilo. When the plane arrived at this destination,
the pilots didn’t leave the cockpit or inspect the aircraft from the outside. After all, it wasn’t a requirement, and they
didn’t have to do it. Following schedule, the plane started the
last leg of the routine roundtrip at 1:25 PM. There were 95 people on board the aircraft:
89 passengers, 2 pilots, 3 flight attendants, and an FAA traffic controller who stayed in
the observer seat in the cockpit. After a normal take-off and ascent, the plane
got to the usual cruising altitude of 24,000 feet. And then, at about 1:48 PM, 26 miles away
from Kahului, Maui, the unexpected happened. Those who were in the cockpit heard a loud
whooshing sound and a crack followed by the deafening sound of wind seconds after. Apparently, a small part of the roof on the
left side tore loose which led to the explosive decompression of the plane. But the worst thing was that the decompression
caused a huge section of the airplane’s roof to tear off completely. The length of the missing part was 18.5 ft
long, and that was the aircraft skin that covered the plane from the cockpit back to
the fore-wing area. At first, the pilots didn’t realize what had
happened. The first officer, who was in control of the
aircraft at that moment, felt her head jerk backward, and she noticed debris and grey
pieces of insulation flying chaotically around the cockpit. When the captain turned his head, he saw that
the cockpit door had disappeared and instead of the first-class ceiling, he was staring
at the clear blue sky. The plane started to roll from side to side,
and it was becoming increasingly harder to control. Everybody who was in the cockpit immediately
put on their oxygen masks, and the captain took over the aircraft. He brought the speed brakes into action and
began an urgent descend toward the nearest airport, which was on Maui island. Luckily, all the passengers were in their
seats at the moment when the accident happened, and since the seat-belt sign was still on,
everyone had their seat-belts fastened. However, all three flight attendants were
standing along the aircraft aisle. The one who was the closest to the front of
the plane was swept out through the hole in the roof. The other two were thrown to the floor by
a forceful jerk. But while one of them hit her head really
hard and lost consciousness, the other started to crawl along the aisle in an attempt to
help passengers and calm them down. At the same time, the pilots were trying to
contact Air Traffic Control and signal an emergency. To make matters worse, they couldn’t hear
each other and had to use gestures to communicate. They also didn’t know whether their radio
worked and whether they had managed to deliver their message. The flight controls were sluggish and loose,
and the captain had difficulty controlling the plane. Meanwhile, the first officer was dealing with
communication and assisting the captain. It turned out that the controller hadn’t been
receiving the crew’s messages until the aircraft descended to a altitude of 14,000 ft. Only then, the signal got through, and Maui
Tower started urgent preparations for an emergency landing. But the problem was at that time, in case
of emergency, the airport control tower had to dial 911 just like anyone else. On top of that, the controller didn’t catch
that the passengers and crew members would need medical help. After all, the crew only announced that they
had experienced a rapid decompression, which didn’t reveal the entire horror of the situation. In the meantime, the plane had already dropped
to a height of 10,000 ft above sea level. The captain removed his oxygen mask and withdrew
the speed brakes. The plane was moving toward Runway 2 of Kahului
Airport. Following the captain’s command, the first
officer lowered the landing gear, but the indicator light didn’t come on. That could mean either they had a bad light,
or they had serious problems with the nose gear. But that wasn’t the only problem. As the plane was approaching the runway, the
left engine failed, and the aircraft started rocking and shaking. The captain made an attempt to restart the
engine but didn’t succeed. And still, at 1:58 PM, just 10 minutes after
the emergency and 35 minutes after the take-off, Aloha Airlines flight 243 managed to touch
down on the runway of Kahului Airport. Landing a plane with such a huge loss of integrity
was an unprecedented feat. To stop the plane, the crew used the reverse
thrust of the second, still working engine. As soon as the plane stopped, the evacuation
began. Everyone on the plane, except for the flight
attendant who had been pulled out of the plane, was alive, although 65 people were injured. Most people had been hurt by flying debris
and torn pieces of fuselage. Unfortunately, since nobody on the ground
had known how serious the situation was, no ambulances were waiting for the injured. The first one arrived 7 minutes after the
plane landed. And there were only 2 ambulances on the island,
which obviously couldn’t fit all the people. That’s why the passengers had to be transported
to the hospital in several 15-passenger tour vans that belonged to the company Akamai Tours. Luckily, two Akamai drivers used to be paramedics,
and they started to help the injured right on the runway. Meanwhile, airport mechanics, as well as office
staff, drove the vans to the hospital which was 3 miles away. Luckily, there were only 8 serious injuries,
and all of these people later recovered. As for the plane, it was damaged beyond repair
and later dismantled right at the airport. The missing part of the roof disappeared without
a trace. But what could cause such a terrible accident? The problem wasn’t the age of the aircraft;
after all, 19 years isn’t that old. Neither had it accumulated too many flight
hours before the accident happened. But the 35,500 flight hours the plane had
traveled included 89,680 takeoffs and landings, which are also called flight cycles. The reason for such a huge number was that
the plane performed mostly short domestic flights between the islands. And this number exceeded the number of flight
cycles the plane was designed for by two times! Besides, the airplane traveled in a salty
and humid environment which also added to the wear and tear. Interestingly, during one interview that followed
the accident, passenger Gayle Yamamoto remembered that she had spotted a crack in the fuselage
when she was boarding. Unfortunately, she was the only one who had
seen this damage, and the woman hadn’t thought that the crack was important enough to inform
the crew. Have you ever heard about any other unusual
accidents that happened in the air? If so, write about them in the comment section
below! Remember to hit the “like” button,” share
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