Aviation expert: Transair cargo plane broke apart on impact, pilots lucky to be alive

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Aviation experts say the Transair cargo plane that crashed off Oahu on July 2 broke apart when it hit the water, leaving the two pilots just minutes to get out.

Investigators now have to figure out how to retrieve the two black boxes from the bottom of the ocean.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the pictures of the wreckage of the plane which is believed to be 360 to 420 feet underwater. The Boeing 737-200 jet broke apart in two large sections, and one of the engines is sitting on the ocean floor.

“To me that looks like a high impact on the water with a nose altitude up,” said Capt. Christopher Behnam, aviation expert. “As they’re coming down they must have pulled the nose up and when it hit the water, it broke the airplane basically in half.”

Capt. Behnam says the impact is like being in a car and hitting a brick wall at 70-80 miles an hour. The two pilots had to get out quickly because the plane was sinking fast.

“They are extremely fortunate that they were not knocked out, that they were able to open the windows and get out of the airplane,” he said.

The cargo plane was headed for Maui but reported having engine trouble shortly after takeoff from Honolulu. NTSB says it’s developing plans to recover the aircraft.

Marine salvage companies will be hired to get the two data flight recorders, or black boxes, which are on the tail end of the plane.

“They might want to recover the rest of the airplane just to see if there was any fatigue in the metal or not,” said Capt. Behnam. “I think the way they would do it is they would put airbags inside the airplane and inflate it. They would lift the airplane and bring it to surface.”

Two years ago, Capt. Behnam was the pilot of the United Airlines flight from San Francisco that had to make an emergency landing in Honolulu after an engine cover came off in midair. He says investigators will likely focus on why both engines of the Transair flight might have failed.

“The airplane is capable of flying on one engine and coming back and land,” he said. “The mystery right now is why they lost the second engine and what happened.”

NTSB investigators say they have conducted interviews with the flight crew and Transair personnel, and reviewed the airplane’s maintenance records.

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