April 1988 - Aloha
Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was a scheduled Aloha Airlines flight between
Hilo and Honolulu in Hawaii. On April 28, 1988, a Boeing 737-297 serving
the flight suffered extensive damage after an explosive decompression
in flight, but was able to land safely at Kahului Airport on Maui. The
only fatality was flight attendant C.B. Lansing who was blown out of
the airplane. Another 65 passengers and crew were injured. The safe
landing of the aircraft with such a major loss of integrity was unprecedented
and remains unsurpassed.
The aircraft, Queen Liliuokalani (registration number N73711), took
off from Hilo International Airport at 13:25 HST on 28 April 1988, bound
for Honolulu. There were 90 passengers and five crew members on board.
No unusual occurrences were reported during the take-off and climb.
Around 13:48, as the aircraft reached its normal flight altitude of
24,000 feet (7,300 m) about 23 nautical miles (43 km) south-southeast
of Kahului, a small section on the left side of the roof ruptured. The
resulting explosive decompression tore off a large section of the roof,
consisting of the entire top half of the aircraft skin extending from
just behind the cockpit to the fore-wing area.
As part of the design of the 737, stress may be alleviated by controlled
area breakaway zones. The intent was to provide controlled depressurization
that would maintain the integrity of the fuselage structure. The age
of the plane and the condition of the fuselage (that had corroded and
was stressing the rivets beyond their designed capacity) appear to have
conspired to render the design a part of the problem; when that first
controlled area broke away, according to the small rupture theory, the
rapid sequence of events resulted in the failure sequence. This has
been referred to as a zipper effect.
First Officer Madeline "Mimi" Tompkins' head was jerked back
during the decompression, and she saw cabin insulation flying around
the cockpit. Captain Robert Schornstheimer looked back and saw blue
sky where the first class cabin's roof had been. Tompkins immediately
contacted Air Traffic Control on Maui to declare mayday.
At the time of the decompression, the chief flight attendant, Clarabelle
"C.B." Lansing, was standing at seat row 5 collecting drink
cups from passengers. According to passengers' accounts, Lansing was
sucked through a hole in the side of the airplane.
Flight attendant Michelle Honda, who was standing near rows #15 and
#16, was thrown violently to the floor during the decompression. Despite
her injuries, she was able to crawl up and down the aisle to assist
and calm the terrified passengers. Flight attendant Jane Sato-Tomita,
who was at the front of the plane, was seriously injured by flying debris
and was thrown to the floor. Passengers held onto her during the descent
The explosive decompression severed the electrical wiring from the
nose gear to the indicator light on the cockpit instrument panel. As
a result, the light did not illuminate when the nose gear was lowered,
and the pilots had no way of knowing if it had fully lowered.
Before landing, passengers were instructed to don their life jackets,
in case the aircraft did not make it to Kahului.
The crew performed an emergency landing on Kahului Airport's runway
2 at 13:58. Upon landing, the crew deployed the aircraft's emergency
evacuation slides and evacuated passengers from the aircraft quickly.
First Officer Mimi Tompkins assisted passengers down the evacuation
slide. In all, 65 people were reported injured, eight seriously. At
the time, Maui had no plan for a disaster of this type. The injured
were taken to the hospital by the tour vans from Akamai Tours (now defunct)
driven by office personnel and mechanics, since the island only had
a couple of ambulances. Air traffic control radioed Akamai and requested
as many of their 15 passenger vans as they could spare to go to the
airport (less than a mile away) to transport the injured. Two of the
Akamai drivers were former medics and established a triage on the runway.
The aircraft was a write-off.
Investigation by the United States National Transportation Safety Board
(NTSB) concluded that the accident was caused by metal fatigue exacerbated
by crevice corrosion (the plane operated in a coastal environment, with
exposure to salt and humidity). The root cause of the problem was failure
of an epoxy adhesive used to bond the aluminum sheets of the fuselage
together when the B737 was manufactured. Water was able to enter the
gap where the epoxy failed to bond the two surfaces together properly,
and started the corrosion process. The age of the aircraft became a
key issue (it was 19 years old at the time of the accident and had sustained
a remarkable number of takeoff-landing cycles 89,090, the second
most cycles for a plane in the world at the time well beyond
the 75,000 trips it was designed to sustain). Aircraft now receive additional
maintenance checks as they age. However, several other aircraft operating
under similar environments did not exhibit the same phenomenon. A deep
and thorough inspection of Aloha Airlines by NTSB revealed that the
most extensive and longer "D Check" was performed in several
early morning installments, instead of a full uninterrupted maintenance
According to the official NTSB report of the investigation, Gayle Yamamoto,
a passenger, noticed a crack in the fuselage upon boarding the aircraft
prior to the ill-fated flight but did not notify anyone. The crack was
located aft of the front port side passenger door. The crack was probably
due to metal fatigue related to the 89,090 compression and decompression
cycles experienced in the short hop flights by Aloha.
In addition, the United States Congress passed the Aviation Safety
Research Act of 1988 in the wake of the disaster. This provided for
stricter research into probable causes of future airplane disasters.
Both pilots remained with Aloha Airlines. Robert Schornstheimer retired
from Aloha Airlines in August 2005. At that time, Madeline Tompkins
was still a captain of the airline's Boeing 737-700 aircraft until the
the full NTSB report
Transcript of the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)
Cabin: [Sound of screams, sound of wind noise]
The CVR microphones in the cockpit could not pick up any crew conversation
for the next five minutes. However, the CVR recorded the crews
transmissions with the ground control through the crews oxygen
Co-pilot: Centre, Alhoa two forty three. Were going down
lower [altitude]. Centre, Alhoa forty three, Centre, Alhoa forty three.
Maui Approach, Aloha two forty three. Maui Tower, Alhoa two forty three.
Maui tower, Alhoa two forty three. Were inbound for a landing.
Maui Tower, Alhoa two forty three.
Tower: [Flight] Callin Tower say again.
Co-pilot: Maui tower, Aloha two forty three, were inbound for
landing. Were just, ah, west of Makena, descending out of thirteen
[13,000 feet], and we have rapid depr - we are unpressurised. Declaring
Tower: Aloha two forty three, winds zero four zero at one five. Altimeter
two niner niner niner. Just to verify again. Youre breaking up.
Your call sign is two forty - four? Is that correct. Or two forty three?
Here the crew, having reached 11,000 feet takes off its oxygen masks.
Co-pilot: two forty three Aloha - forty three.
Tower: Two forty - two the equipment is on the the roll. Plan [to approach]
straight thousand [ 11,000] feet. Request clearance into Maui for landing.
Request the [emergency] equipment.
Tower: Okay, the equipment is on the field
Is on the way. Squawk
zero three four three, can you come up on [frequency] one niner one
niner point five?
Co- pilot: Two forty three. Can you hear us on one nineteen five two,
forty three? Maui Tower, two forty three. It looks like weve lost
a door. We have a hole in this, ah, left side of the aircraft.
Jumpseat Passenger: Im fine.
Co-pilot to Captain: Want the [landing] gear?
Co- pilot: Want the [landing gear]?
Co-pilot: Do you want it [the gear] down?.
Captain: Flaps fifteen [for] landing.
Captain: Here we go. Weve picked up some of your airplane business
right there. I think they can hear you. They cant hear me. Ah,
tell him, ah, well need assistance to evacuate this airplane.
Captain: We really can communicate with the flight attendants,
but well need trucks, and well need, ah, airstairs from
Co-pilot: All right. [To tower] Maui Tower, two forty three, can you
hear me on tower?
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, I hear you loud and clear. Go ahead.
Co-pilot: Ah, were gonna need assistance. We cannot communicate
with the flight attendants. Ah, well need assistance for the passengers
when we land.
Tower: Okay, I understand youre gonna need an ambulance. Is that
Captain to co-pilot: It feels like manual reversion.
Captain to Co-pilot: Flight controls feel like manual reversion [like
the autopilot has switched off].
Co-pilot: Can we maintain altitude ok?
Captain: Lets try flying
lets try flying with the
gear down here.
Co-pilot: All right you got it.
Cockpit: [Sound of landing gear being lowered]
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, can you give me your souls on board and
your fuel on board?
Captain to co-pilot: Do you have a passenger count for tower?
Co-pilot to Tower: We, ah - eighty five, eight six, plus five crew
Tower: Okay. And, ah, just to verify. You broke up initially. You do
need an ambulance. Is that correct?
Tower: Roger. How many do you think are injured?
Co-pilot: We have no idea. We cannot communicate with our flight attendant.
Tower: Okay. Well have an ambulance on the way.
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, wind zero five. The [emergency] equipment
is in place.
Co-pilot: Okay, be advised. We have no nose gear. We are landing without
Tower: Okay if you need any other assistance, advise
Co-pilot: Well need all the [emergency] equipment youve
got. [To Captain] Is it easier to control with the flaps up?
Captain: Yeah put em at five. Can you give me a vee speed for
a flaps five landing?
Co-pilot: Do you want the flaps down as we land?
Captain: Yeah after we touch down
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, just for your information. The gear appears
down. Gear appears down.
Co-pilot to Captain: Want me to go flaps forty
Cockpit: [Sound of touchdown on runway]
Co-pilot: Thrust reverser.
Captain: Okay. Okay. Shut it down.
Co-pilot: Shut it down.
Captain: Now left engine.
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, just shut her down where you are. Everything
[is] fine. The gear did
The fire trucks are on the way.
Cockpit: [Sound of engines winding down]
Captain: Okay, start the call for the emergency evacuation.
END OF TAPE.
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