Transair wreckage to be recovered; depth and size of debris poses challenges

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said recovering the wreckage of Transair flight 810, which has been sitting hundreds of feet at the bottom of the ocean, may be tricky. The plane went down in July after crew members reported engine trouble.

The recovery for the cargo plane is scheduled to begin Monday, Oct. 11, and expected to take a little over a week to complete, according to the NTSB. However, gusty winds and choppy seas could delay the process.

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Transair flight 810’s Boeing 737-200 plane was split in two and has been sitting on the ocean shelf about 350 to 450 feet deep since it crashed on Friday, July 2. Two crew members ditched the cargo plane, which was en route to Maui, shortly after take off from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport after they reported problems with both plane’s engines.

“The two pilots were able to escape through the cockpit windows, and they were rescued by the U.S. Coastguard and the Honolulu Airport Aircraft Rescue Firefighting unit,” said Lorenda Ward, NTSB Senior Air Safety Investigator.

Ward said a crew of 40 people will assist with the recovery of the aircraft. They plan to get all the major components of the plane, but the size of the wreckage poses challenges.

“What is unique about this recovery is that we essentially have two pieces of the airplane. When the airplane was landed on the water, it essentially broke into two very large pieces. So, instead of a fragmented airplane, we’re going to be lifting two pieces with the heaviest being about 97,000 pounds,” Ward explained. “The majority of the recovery wreckages that I have brought to the surface before usually have been fragmented, and we have much smaller pieces to work with.”

Weather is also huge factor.

“The sea state could affect the pace of the recovery,” Ward added. “We have to get the right combination of wind, waves and swell before the wreckage can be lifted. You have surface area that can be impacted by the wind because, if it’s a day like today, you might have a helicoptering of the wreckage as it’s being lifted. “

Another issue is the depth of the debris field. Divers cannot reach it, which means that they have to use a remote operating vehicle.

“The ROV will be our workhorse, and it will be rigging the piece of wreckage to prepare it for it’s vertical lift for recovery,” Ward explained. “It has an umbilical that will be providing its power and a real-time video stream to the ROV operator, and it can utilize multiple tooling attachments.”

Ward said the depth and size of the wreckage are the reasons why it took so long to begin the salvage process.

“Once the aircraft was located, it wasn’t in a depth that is for the traditional divers to go down to. So the insurance company had to do a request for a quote. That had to go out — we gave the folks 30 days to respond — those proposals had to be reviewed, and then the contract had to be awarded. And then the ships had to be outfitted and sailed to Hawaii. That is a longer process, but they had to do it with the depth and location of the wreckage.”

Once items are brought to the surface, Ward said they will be documented as some items will be sent to the mainland for investigation.

“The flight data recorder, or the FDR, will provide us with important information about the performance of the airplane and the cockpit voice recorder, or the CVR, will gives us potential insight into the challenges the crew were encountering and how they may have handled those challenges,” Ward said. “The recorders will be transported to our lab in Washington D.C. where they will be cleaned, dried and downloaded.”

Ward said they are working with NOAA and other agencies to ensure coral reef and sea animals will not be harmed during the operation.

“What we’re going to be monitoring during the recovery is the placement of the anchors to make sure that we don’t damage the coral and, once again, if we do encounter any protected species, we will document that, and we will stop operations if we do see animals that are interested in what we’re doing.”

A safety zone surrounding the area will be designated.

“We work with both the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and put a temporary flight restriction in the area,” she said. “And we also work with the U.S. Coast Guard — who has made a limited access area. This is to protect our folks who are working on board the ship and also for the flights who may be arriving cause we will have a very large crane that will be working in that area.”

Ward said it could take another 12 to 24 months to determine the cause of the crash.

“If we find any urgent safety issues during the investigation, we can issue those safety recommendations ahead of the final report,” Ward said.

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Just weeks after the July crash, a runway at the airport had to close after a Transair Short 360 prop plane experienced gear issues and was forced to make an emergency landing. This incident is also under investigation.

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