In the Aloha Airlines disaster where the cabin exploded and sucked out the companion at 24,000 feet before a miracle landing 35 years later
NEARLY 100 people climbed aboard an Aloha Airlines jet for what they mistook for another routine inter-island flight.
But the 55-minute ride would change the airline industry forever after the cabin exploded at 24,000 feet.
Nearly 35 years after the plane crash, the extraordinary chain of events in Hawaii is still a stark reminder of safety in the skies.
On April 28, 1988, the Boeing 737 took off from Hilo International Airport with five crew members and 90 passengers for a short stopover in Honolulu.
Despite an uneventful start, those on board were unaware of the movie-like scenes that would unfold just over 20 minutes later.
Aloha Airlines Flight 243 had climbed to a cool 24,000 feet and was flying through the clouds when an explosion suddenly erupted.
Crew members were serving drinks and snacks to plane passengers when the explosion occurred as cabin pressure dropped.
The ceiling of the Boeing 737 was blown off, tearing a huge chunk out of the plane.
Much of its fuselage followed, leaving dozens of passengers exposed to the elements.
Flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing, 58, was tending to passengers in the fifth row when she was sucked into the void.
The tragic Aloha Airlines employee, who worked in the industry for 37 years, fell from the damaged cabin into the abyss – and her body was never found.
As passengers flinched in horror, Captain Robert Schornstheime, 44, struggled to maintain control of the plane as it rolled from side to side.
He and First Officer Madeline Tompkins said the cockpit was swallowed up by a deafening “noise” as their controls came loose.
They startlingly explained how they could “see blue skies where the first class ceiling had been.”
Crew member Michelle Honda was knocked to the ground by the airborne debris while a “smoke-like vapor” filled the cabin.
She recalled: “Paper, fiberglass, asbestos. It was kind of white. That’s why I say blizzard, even though it wasn’t cold.”
Fellow crew member Jane Sato-Tomita lay unconscious in a pool of blood after also being hit by debris.
Honda told the Washington Post she thought her colleague was “dead” when she spotted her trudging down the aisle.
She continued: “She was just on the edge of the hole. The back of her head had split open. She was in ruins.
“I remember lying on the ground, crawling rung by rung up the aisle and telling people to put life jackets on.
“LIKE THE MOVIES”
But the fierce wind that slammed into the plane proved a major obstacle to the passengers and conscious crew members.
People had to cling to each other as they tried to resist being pulled through the hole, knowing their possible fate.
They also attempted to dodge the debris swirl in the cabin as two giant ceiling panels landed on tourists’ heads.
“The wind was “thundering, like a storm,” Honda said. “Like a bad storm. Like the movies when they had bad storms in those old black and white horror movies.”
Every time she tried desperately to shout instructions like “head down,” the flight attendant would end up with a mouth full of debris.
Incredibly, Captain Schornstheime was still clinging to what little control they had over the Aloha Airlines jet.
The rest of the Boeing 737 had miraculously managed to remain welded together, despite the blast ripping an 18-foot hole in it.
Schornstheime took over the cockpit and began piloting the plane to begin an emergency descent to Maui, unaware that they would be landing without a crew member.
But then the left engine failed, causing the plane to descend even faster as they neared Kahului Airport.
Somehow, the Aloha Airlines flight was able to land without incident — just thirteen minutes into the ordeal.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
A makeshift hospital was set up on the runway to treat the 65 injured passengers, eight of whom were seriously injured.
Passengers also suffered burns from electrocution from open wires, as well as broken bones, fractures, concussions and lacerations all over their bodies.
Investigators quickly attempted to determine the cause of the plane crash, as the pre-flight inspection had gone smoothly.
It later emerged that one passenger, Gayle Yamamoto, had noticed a crack in the fuselage as she was boarding – but didn’t notify anyone.
The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that the accident was caused by a failure in the airline’s maintenance program.
Designed to detect the presence of damage to the aircraft, the lack of thoroughness of the inspection, which was conducted in the dark, meant a crack in a lap joint was missed.
It was also found that the airline’s management had failed to adequately monitor its maintenance staff.
In response, the Federal Aviation Administration launched the National Aging Aircraft Research Program in 1991 to tighten inspection and maintenance requirements for frequently used and high-cycle aircraft.
The safe landing was hailed as “exemplary” by industry leaders, who were stunned that there was only one fatality.
A memorial garden was opened at Honolulu International Airport in 1995 in honor of the sole victim, Clarabelle Lansing.
The lessons of the horrific incident that rocked Hawaii still have a significant impact on aircraft safety procedures today.
Ahead of the 35th anniversary of the Aloha Airlines disaster later this month, history remains as tragic as it was over three decades ago.