Years before Captain Sully and the “Miracle on the Hudson,” there was Captain Schornstheimer, and the miracle landing of Aloha Airlines flight 243, after part of the plane ripped off in mid-air.
Saturday marks 30 years since that incident.
On April 28, 1988, just before 2 p.m., Aloha Airlines flight 243 made an emergency landing at Kahului Airport on Maui.
“What really got us was people strapped into the seat, not moving, arms dangling in the air, hair flying in the wind,” said a man who witnessed the emergency landing.
The top of the Boeing 737 was peeled back like a canned good, turning the plane into a convertible.
The plane had left Hilo on the Big Island, and was heading to Honolulu on Oahu, when about 20 minutes into the flight there was what sounded like an explosion.
“I thought this was it because I thought we lost the pilot and everything because from my angle all I saw was sky,” said a passenger.
“Then I looked to my other side, my right side and no walls, and I look at my feet and I noticed right next to my feet was an exposed area and I could see the ocean below me,” said a passenger.
“I was working in my seat in the back of the Aloha Airlines and all of a sudden there was a loud noise, I heard an impact, looked up and saw the plane was falling apart in the front. I thought we were done,” said a passenger.
Flight attendant Clarabelle “C.B.” Lansing was sucked out of the plane. She had been with Aloha Airlines for 37 years.
“From what I gather talking to people afterwards, a few people saw her trying to grab the intercom maybe to tell them what to do,” said passenger Amy Brown, an off-duty flight attendant on flight 243.
The plane had been about 15 miles south of Maui, 24,000 feet in the air, when the pilot reported a rapid loss of pressure that ripped open the plane’s body.
“Then I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote my notes my last notes and said goodbye to my family,” said a passenger.
“I personally thought we were all gone,” said a passenger.
“There was no panic or yelling or screaming, people just put on our life vests and put our heads down,” said a passenger.
The plane landed at Kahului Airport about ten minutes later. Sixty people were taken to Maui Memorial Medical Center. Lansing’s body was never recovered.
“The hearts of the entire Aloha Airlines family go out to those who are injured and their families and in particular to the family of Mrs. Lansing,” said Maurice Myers, Aloha Airlines’ president at the time.
“She was a very sweet lady, easy to work with,” Brown said. “She’ll be very much missed. It’s a terrible thing.”
The other four crew members survived, as well as all of the 89 passengers, thanks to Captain Bob Schornstheimer and First Officer Mimi Tompkins.
“The way the plane was and the way he landed it was so perfect. Just one mistake and the thing could’ve just broke right in half,” said passenger Lopaka Brown.
Skill played a big role, and luck also played a role in helping to avert a major disaster.
It’s no doubt a day people in Hawaii won’t ever forget.
As for the cause of the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board said the probable cause was the failure of the Aloha Airlines’ maintenance program to detect cracks in the fuselage.
The cracks were caused by metal fatigue, which is a term that was just recently brought up by the NTSB as part of the reason why a Southwest Airlines jet’s engine blade broke off earlier this month.
It happened mid-flight, cracking a window open and causing a passenger to be partially sucked out. Others on the plane pulled her in, but she died from her injuries.
Southwest Airlines promised a safety review of its fleet since that accident.
Meanwhile, the company is still undergoing a federal review on whether its planes are able to safely fly to Hawaii from the mainland. The company announced on Thursday that it plans to fly to Lihue, Honolulu, Kahului, and Kona from a “California gateway city,” but there was no mention of flying interisland yet.