On the afternoon of 28 April 1988, Aloha Airlines Flight 243 was flying over paradise, carrying 95 people on a short jaunt from Hilo to Honolulu in Hawaii, when all hell broke loose in an instant. There was a “whoosh” sound, and then chaos; the blue sky the plane was traveling across suddenly came rushing through the cabin as the fuselage appeared to be disintegrating. In the ensuing 13 minutes of terror, the pilots of the flight somehow, miraculously, managed to land the damaged plane.
The flight was uneventful during the taxi and takeoff, and everything seemed normal for the first 20 minutes of the flight as the plane leveled at 24,000 feet. Then, suddenly, passenger Eric Becklin, who was sitting at the back of the aircraft, heard a loud noise, a bang, but not an explosion, and felt a strong pressure change. “I looked up front and saw the front of the top left of the airplane disintegrating, just going apart, pieces of it flying away. It started with a hole about a yard wide, and it just kept coming apart.”
With the disintegration of the aircraft, veteran crew member Clarabelle “C.B.” Lansing was the tragic sole fatality, while 65 others suffered injuries during the traumatic, tumultuous flight. Lansing and some of the aircraft vanished, and neither would ever be seen again. The pilots in the cockpit, equally stunned, quickly sprang into action after the initial bang that “sounded like really heavy canvas ripping rapidly,” Captain Schornstheimer told The Maui News in 2018. “It happened almost instantaneously. There was no warning.”
Ms Tompkins’ “head was jerked backward” as pieces of debris, including insulation, floated through the air; the cockpit door was gone, and “there was blue sky where the first-class ceiling had been,” the captain told investigators, according to the NTSB report. Meanwhile, passengers in the cabin — and the remaining flight attendants — were struggling to collect themselves physically and mentally.
Flight attendant Ms Sato-Tomita was knocked unconscious by flying debris and lay on the floor, bleeding. “The first time I saw her, I thought she was dead,” fellow attendant Ms Honda, who had been standing around row 15, told The Washington Post in the days after the incident. “She was just on the borderline of the hole. Her head was split open in the back. She was under debris.”
Ms Honda, too, had been thrown to the floor but sustained only minor injuries — and dutifully scrambled to help terrified passengers in any way she could. “I had no sense of rows, only seats,” she told the newspaper. “I was crawling and dragging … I know I was on my back some of the time because of the perspective of looking up into their faces. I don’t know when I stood up or when I crawled.”
The control of the plane felt “loose,” according to Captain Schornstheimer, and the aircraft rolled “slightly left and right,” according to the report. The remaining flight attendants were struggling to maintain composure and assist passengers, with one of them crawling through debris to help a passenger who was stuck between seats. Another passenger, Judi Giramonte, suffered multiple injuries when a large piece of metal struck her leg, causing her to pass out from the pain.
Despite the chaos, the pilots managed to land the aircraft safely, and the passengers and crew were evacuated without further incident. The accident highlighted previously unexplored problems with the continued airworthiness of aging planes. Jeff Marcus, chief of safety recommendations for the National Transportation Safety Board, notes that “we had never had airplanes flying for that many