April 28, 1988 was an ordinary sunny morning over the Hawaiian Islands. Captain Bob Shornstheimer and co-pilot Mimi Tompkins prepared an old 737 for a regular flight from Hilo Airport to Honolulu Airport. This is a short 35 minute flight. On this section, the planes flew like buses. 8 to 10 flights per day. For flight 243, it was the 9th flight that morning.
At about 13:25 the plane was lifted into the air and began to set a working height. At an altitude of 7 thousand meters there was an explosive decompression of the cabin, which served as a breakdown of 25 square meters of aircraft trim. The first class cabin turned out to be entirely outdoors at a speed of 500 km / h.
The crew immediately began to descend to the minimum height to allow passengers to breathe. Due to the lack of a roof, passengers could not wear air masks. They simply did not exist. The cabling between the cabin and the cabin was damaged, so flight attendant Michelle Honda could not find out who was in the cabin or everyone died there. She could only help passengers to group and calm down.It is very difficult to calm down at this altitude in the open air, nevertheless, she did not allow panic in the cabin. Second flight attendant Jane Sato-Tomina was injured and unconscious.
Due to damage to some of the communication cables, the crew could not communicate with the tower at Honolulu Airport. Moreover, with such injuries, they could no longer be in the air. The plane had to be planted. And the sooner the better. The nearest airport capable of receiving such a plane was the airport on the island of Maui. The co-pilot immediately established contact with the tower.
Emergency services on the ground were immediately notified of the approaching aircraft. This was also reported to the crew of 243, which immediately began preparations for an emergency landing. Unfortunately, not everything went so smoothly. Due to the rupture of the fuselage, the nose of the aircraft dropped almost a meter and in fact hung on several beams. The crew couldn’t release flaps to a sufficient angle, it would have ripped the plane to the end. Therefore, it was decided to brake released chassis.
Unfortunately, the front landing gear lamp did not catch fire. This meant that, if landing with such damage, the nose would have come off the main body of the fuselage, and the rest would start to fall apart, which would result in damage and fire to the fuel tanks.Usually in such a situation, the pilot passes over the landing strip at a sufficiently low speed and height so that ground services can confirm the landing gear release or its absence.
Fortunately, it was a wiring defect. The chassis has been released. But the question remained, was it fixed? The crew did not have time to resolve this issue and the captain decided to sit down at any cost.
At 13:58 flight 243, thanks to the coordinated actions of the crew and ground services, made a successful emergency landing at Maui airport. Unfortunately, there were no victims. Flight attendant Klarabel Lansing with 37 years of experience was thrown overboard by the flow of air into the hole formed immediately after the start of the disaster.
The investigation of the causes of the accident flight AQ 243 took up the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
According to the final report published on April 14, 1989, the following were recognized as the causes of the accident:
- corrosion of metal,
- bad epoxy bond of fuselage parts,
- rivet fatigue,
- damage to the fuselage metal (due to the many take-off-landing cycles; the plane made only short flights).
One of the participants in the investigation suggested the theory of "Liquid Hammer" (literally translated from English"Liquid hammer", which corresponds to the Russian-language technical term "water hammer"): first, the hatch on the top opened, the head of the flight attendant plugged it, and only then the fuselage "opened" because of the pressure jump. The very terminology of this theory in this case is fundamentally wrong, because the "water hammer" happens only in systems filled with fluid. Therefore, in this tragic incident, it is worthwhile to call the phenomenon “pneumatic impact”. And a pneumatic impact (that is, an air shock pressure surge), which could occur due to the instantaneous blockage of a hatch that opened at a height of over 7 kilometers (or a collapsed window) with the body of a flight attendant, could indeed lead to the destruction of a large part of the fuselage, especially the fuselage, whose strength was weakened by aging or material defects.