Aloha Airlines Flight 243

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Aloha Flight 243
Aloha Airlines Flight 243 at Kahului Airport on April 28, 1988, after its fuselage was ripped apart during the flight.
DateApril 28, 1988
TypeMaintenance related fatigue failure along lap joint S-10L,
explosive decompression
SiteKahului, Hawaii
Aircraft typeBoeing 737-297
OperatorAloha Airlines
Tail numberN73711
Flight originHilo International Airport
DestinationHonolulu International Airport

Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was a scheduled Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-297 flight between Hilo and Honolulu in Hawaii. On April 28, 1988, the aircraft suffered extensive damage after an explosive decompression in flight, but was able to land safely at Kahului Airport on Maui. One flight attendant was blown out of the airplane and another 65 passengers and crew were injured. The extent of the damage was only just below that which would have caused the airliner to break up, and the survival of the aircraft with such a major loss of integrity was unprecedented and remains unsurpassed.

1988-04-28 737 Aloha Airlines AQ HI OGG Mechanical (decompression) 100 1 94


Template:Refimprovesect On April 28, 1988, the aircraft, Queen Liliuokalani (registration number N73711) took off from Hilo International Airport at 13:25 HST bound for Honolulu. There were 90 passengers and five crew members on board. No unusual occurrences were reported during the take-off and climb. [1]

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.

Part of the design of the 737 was for stress to 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 away and stressed 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 Schornsteimer looked back and saw blue sky where the first class cabin's roof had been. Tompkins immediately contacted Kahului Airport on Maui to declare an emergency.

At the time of the decompression, the chief flight attendant, Clarabell Lansing, was standing at seat row 5 collecting drink cups from passengers. According to passengers' accounts, Lansing was ejected through a hole in the side of the airplane. On the side of the plane, investigators later found what looked like an imprint of a head with bloodstains on the side of the plane, which were supposedly from Clarabell Lansing.

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 into Maui.

Before landing, passengers were instructed to don their lifejackets, in case the aircraft did not make it to Kahului. Some passengers inflated their lifejackets while the aircraft was still in flight (see photo), possibly reducing or eliminating some injuries. However in most cases inflating a life jacket while still inside the aircraft could trap the user in a sinking fuselage as the water level rises.

The crew performed an emergency landing on Kahului Airport's runway 2 at 13:58. Upon landing, the crew deployed the aircraft's emergency slide/rafts, and evacuated passengers from the aircraft quickly. In the photo provided, First Officer Mimi Tompkins assisted passengers down the evacuation slide/raft. In all, 65 people were reported injured, seven 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) by office personnel and mechanics driving them 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.[2] What could have been a major disaster ended with a single death.


After the accident, a full-scale investigation was launched by the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It concluded that the accident was caused by metal fatigue exacerbated by crevice corrosion [3] (the plane operated in a salt water environment). The root cause of the problem was failure of an epoxy adhesive to bond to the aluminum sheets of the fuselage together when the B737 was manufactured. Where it failed to bond the two surfaces together, water could enter the gap and start the corrosion process. Because the corrosion products have a larger volume than the underlying metal, the two sheets were forced apart, putting extra stress on the rivets also used to hold them together. 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, 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 present 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 procedure. They also found that eddy-current testing inspections on the fuselage skin, as prescribed by Boeing, had not been performed.Template:Fact

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.[4] The crack was located aft of the front portside passenger door. This 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 Schornsteimer retired from Aloha Airlines in August, 2005. At that time, Madeline Tompkins was still a captain of the airline's Boeing 737-700 aircraft.

Matt Austin

Matt Austin, a pressure vessel engineer and president of the Hawaii Steam Engineering Co. took an interest in the accident and has brought forth an expanded theory as to why the accident led to such extensive damage to the aircraft. According to the supposedly fail safe design mentioned above, a crack in the fuselage should have resulted in a small opening being created allowing a controlled and not very destructive decompression. Austin proposed that the much larger failure was the result of the so called fluid hammer effect.

Austin believes that initially, the fuselage failed as intended and only opened a small hole. However, as the escaping air in the plane gained momentum and picked up flight attendant Clarabell Lansing, Austin believes that Lansing became wedged in the hole instead of being immediately thrown clear of the plane. With Lansing blocking the hole, rushing air would in accordance with the fluid hammer effect have created a pressure spike on the weakened section of the fuselage. The resulting brief but large forces would then have ruptured the fuselage at more points and caused it to fail in the way it did. [5]

Austin sees the 'Ghost Imprint' as an indication that his theory is correct. If the imprint was indeed from Lansing then it would provide strong evidence that she was not thrown clear of the plane at once. DNA matching could have given a definitive answer if the imprint was from Lansing but since the plane was scrapped and the section with the imprint thus was destroyed that sort of test cannot be performed.

Austin has written several letters to among others the NTSB and Boeing. [6] The NTSB has not reopened the investigation into the accident but in responses to Austin's letters, a representative of the board expressed a certain amount of recognition to his theory, even though the board does not share his conclusion and maintain their original finding that the fuselage failed on multiple points at once.[7] Brian Richardson, a former NTSB investigator into the accident also expressed recognition to Austin's work.[8][9] Boeing replied that they were aware of the Fluid Hammer effect from testing and feel that his theory does not invalidate their design.[10]

Matt Austin has published his theory and the letters on his website Disaster City.

Relics of the plane

Due to the plane's state, the airframe was scrapped by a Maui metal recycler after transport through Kahului. A belt buckle made from the scrapped plane now resides, along with a photo of the plane in the scrapyard, at the Paper Airplane Museum in the Maui Mall.

Dramatizations and memorials

  • The TV movie Miracle Landing is based on the incident.
  • The plot of the novel Airframe references the incident.
  • The Discovery Channel/National Geographic Channel series Mayday (called Air Crash Investigations in the United Kingdom and other areas, Air Emergency in the United States), a series about aircraft crashes and incidents, featured this particular flight in the episode "Hanging by a Thread." The episode contained historical footage, recreations of what happened, and interviews with investigators and survivors.[11]
  • The History Channel series Secrets of the Black Box also showed historical footage, recreations of what happened, and interviews with investigators and survivors (December 22 2007).
  • The Discovery Channel show Mythbusters referenced the flight in its discussion of depressurization in airplanes


See also


  1. ^ NTSB Factual Report (PDF)
  2. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>National Transportation Safety Board (1989). "Excerpts from "Aircraft Accident Report- Aloha Airlines, flight 243, Boeing 737-200,- N73711, near Maui, Hawaii- April 28, 1988". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  3. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>"The Aloha incident". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  4. ^ "Hanging by a Thread." Mayday.
  5. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Disaster City website (1997). "Separation Sequence". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  6. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Disaster City website (1997–1999). "Fluid Hammer Correspondence". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)CS1 maint: date format (link)
  7. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Disaster City website (1997). "NTSB Letter, December 17, 1997". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  8. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Disaster City website (1998). "Quote of email from Brian Richardson, 1998". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  9. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>The Honolulu Advertiser (2001). "Engineer fears repeat of 1988 Aloha jet accident". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  10. ^ <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>Disaster City website (1999). "Boeing Response, March 30, 1999". Unknown parameter |accessyear= ignored (|access-date= suggested) (help); Unknown parameter |accessmonthday= ignored (help)
  11. ^ Mentioned in the documentary

External links

de:Aloha-Airlines-Flug 243 es:Vuelo 243 de Aloha Airlines fr:Vol 243 Aloha Airlines id:Aloha Penerbangan 243 he:טיסה 243 של אלוהא איירליינס ja:アロハ航空243便事故 sv:Aloha Airlines Flight 243 zh:阿羅哈航空243號班機