When United Flight 811 from Honolulu ripped apart mid-flight


Sometimes we take airline safety for granted. But a video reminded us when United Airlines Flight 811 from Honolulu was wrecked in mid-air shortly after takeoff. A massive explosive decompression ejected several rows of seats from the plane, and nine passengers died whose bodies were never recovered. The flight departed from Los Angeles and landed in Honolulu without incident, on its regular daily route to Sydney with intermediate stops. The flight crew reported that nothing was wrong.

The event occurred on February 24, 1989, when the cargo door of the Boeing 747-100 failed shortly after taking off from HNL. Miraculously, the badly damaged aircraft was able to return to Honolulu and land safely. The aircraft was later repaired and returned to service with United. The aircraft had flown nearly 60,000 flight hours in 15,000 uneventful flights prior to that day.

After the crash of Flight 811, the aircraft was repaired and returned to service with UAL for another 8 years before moving to another airline where it flew until 1998.

The flight that fateful day.

The flight was under the control of Captain David Cronin, and would be his last flight before reaching mandatory retirement age at the time. The flight took off just before 2 a.m. in Hawaii, with a total of 355 passengers and crew on board. As the flight left HNL, at 23k feet, there was a loud noise followed by a strong vibration. Firest is believed to have been caused by a bomb, the plane’s forward cargo door had actually been ripped off. The design of the door was that it rotated outward, rather than inward, and its force tore a large hole in the aircraft’s fuselage. The plane’s cabin floor then collapsed, and 10 seats were ejected from the 747. Two of those seats were unoccupied, but the remaining occupants were killed.

A flight attendant was nearly sucked out of the cabin, as happened on Aloha Airlines Flight 243 when she suffered explosive decompression a few months earlier. The passengers and crew of the UAL 747 came to the rescue of the flight attendant and were able to get her back inside the plane. She, however, suffered a major injury.

The flight crew suspected a bomb due to current events.

At the time it was thought that a bomb might have exploded inside the 747, as had happened to Pan Am Flight 103 just before Flight 811.

Emergency descent and preparation for landing.

A rapid descent to achieve breathable air was initiated as the aircraft re-landed in Honolulu. Due to the location of the explosion, emergency oxygen was not working.

Two of the four engines and more were damaged in the explosive decompression.

Flying parts of the plane damaged two of the four engines. Both had to be shut down as a result. One of the wings was also dented and damaged.

Preparation for emergency landing in HNL.

Preparations were made for an emergency landing at Honolulu. The intercom system failed, preventing the cabin and cabin crew from communicating. The flight engineer went down to advise the cabin crew and try to determine what had happened. He incorrectly believed that it was a bomb explosion that caused the damage.

Despite the fact that the flaps did not fully function, the landing gear remained functional and a high-speed landing was successfully initiated.

14 fateful minutes in time before landing.

Only 14 minutes passed from the time of the explosion to his return to HNL. Miraculously, the entire plane was evacuated upon landing in less than 45 seconds.

Flight attendant heroes don’t have easy jobs.

All of the flight attendants on Flight 811 were reported to have been injured during the incident and evacuation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Initially, the NTSB was unable to find the missing cargo door, but based on previous problems with the cargo doors came to its conclusion. Another 747, which was owned by Pan Am, had a gate incident at 20k feet which caused the flight to be aborted. The door was found to be open at one edge by 1.5 inches. Investigators found that the locking mechanism was damaged. Boeing initially believed this was caused by ground crew error,

The NTSB first determined that previous failures in the plane’s forward cargo door damaged the door lock. As a result, it appeared to be locked and locked, but in reality it was not. NTSB blamed UAL for inadequate maintenance and inspection.

However, further independent investigation led some to conclude that it was in fact a design problem combined with an electrical problem that caused the door to open mid-flight. The design of an outward-swinging door, which is more efficient in loading, was also thought to be largely in error. It was later reported that Boeing had known of a crash problem for nearly 14 years. They had recommended changes to the operating airlines, including moving from thin aluminum to heavier steel components. This was followed by a related FAA airworthiness directive in July 1988 that gave airlines up to two years to comply. After this incident, it was revised to be a 30-day policy.

The cargo door was later recovered at a depth of 14,000 feet off Hawaii.

The NTSB inspection found the locking mechanism theory to be incorrect. Based on developments including another UAL 747 incident at JFK, a final updated report was issued in 1992 stating that the probable cause of the incident was a sudden opening of the cargo door due to a combination of improper wiring and deficiencies in the cargo door. burden. As a result of a short circuit, the latching devices operated unexpectedly, allowing aerodynamics to cause the door to fly off.

Fascinating reenactment video that reminded us of the incident.

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