On a regularly scheduled flight from Hilo to Honolulu, Hawaii, Alhoa Airlines flight 243 took off and climbed to a cruise altitude of 24,000 feet. It was at that level when the ceiling area of the forward passenger cabin suddenly burst open in an explosive decompression. The ceiling separated from the airplane, leaving the passengers from the cockpit door to the front of the wing exposed to the elements as though they were riding in a convertible car. Riding along in terror, they could do nothing as the aircraft dove to an altitude level (around 11,000 feet) where oxygen was not needed. There were two pilots aboard that early afternoon, an observer in the cockpit jumpseat, three flight attendants, and 89 passengers. We pick up the CVR just as the ceiling rips off.
Cabin: [Sound of screams, sound of wind noise]
The CVR microphones in the cockpit could not pick up any crew conversation for the next five minutes. However, the CVR recorded the crew’s transmissions with the ground control through the crew’s oxygen mask microphones.
Co-pilot: Centre, Alhoa two forty three. We’re going down…request lower [altitude]. Centre, Alhoa forty three, Centre, Alhoa forty three. Maui Approach, Aloha two forty three. Maui Tower, Alhoa two forty three. Maui tower, Alhoa two forty three. We’re inbound for a landing. Maui Tower, Alhoa two forty three.
Tower: [Flight] Callin’ Tower say again.
Co-pilot: Maui tower, Aloha two forty three, we’re inbound for landing. We’re just, ah, west of Makena, descending out of thirteen [13,000 feet], and we have rapid depr - we are unpressurised. Declaring an emergency…
Tower: Aloha two forty three, winds zero four zero at one five. Altimeter two niner niner niner. Just to verify again. You’re breaking up. Your call sign is two forty - four? Is that correct. Or two forty three?
Here the crew, having reached 11,000 feet takes off its oxygen masks.
Co-pilot: two forty three Aloha - forty three.
Tower: Two forty - two the equipment is on the the roll. Plan [to approach] straight thousand [ 11,000] feet. Request clearance into Maui for landing. Request the [emergency] equipment.
Tower: Okay, the equipment is on the field…Is on the way. Squawk zero three four three, can you come up on [frequency] one niner one niner point five?
Co- pilot: Two forty three. Can you hear us on one nineteen five two, forty three? Maui Tower, two forty three. It looks like we’ve lost a door. We have a hole in this, ah, left side of the aircraft.
Jumpseat Passenger: I’m fine.
Co-pilot to Captain: Want the [landing] gear?
Co- pilot: Want the [landing gear]?
Co-pilot: Do you want it [the gear] down?.
Captain: Flaps fifteen [for] landing.
Captain: Here we go. We’ve picked up some of your airplane business right there. I think they can hear you. They can’t hear me. Ah, tell him, ah, we’ll need assistance to evacuate this airplane.
Captain: We really can’ communicate with the flight attendants, but we’ll need trucks, and we’ll need, ah, airstairs from Alhoa.
Co-pilot: All right. [To tower] Maui Tower, two forty three, can you hear me on tower?
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, I hear you loud and clear. Go ahead.
Co-pilot: Ah, we’re gonna need assistance. We cannot communicate with the flight attendants. Ah, we’ll need assistance for the passengers when we land.
Tower: Okay, I understand you’re gonna need an ambulance. Is that correct?
Captain to co-pilot: It feels like manual reversion.
Captain to Co-pilot: Flight controls feel like manual reversion [like the autopilot has switched off].
Co-pilot: Can we maintain altitude ok?
Captain: Let’s try flying…let’s try flying with the gear down here.
Co-pilot: All right you got it.
Cockpit: [Sound of landing gear being lowered]
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, can you give me your souls on board and your fuel on board?
Captain to co-pilot: Do you have a passenger count for tower?
Co-pilot to Tower: We, ah - eighty five, eight six, plus five crew members.
Tower: Okay. And, ah, just to verify. You broke up initially. You do need an ambulance. Is that correct?
Tower: Roger. How many do you think are injured?
Co-pilot: We have no idea. We cannot communicate with our flight attendant.
Tower: Okay. We’ll have an ambulance on the way.
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, wind zero five. The [emergency] equipment is in place.
Co-pilot: Okay, be advised. We have no nose gear. We are landing without nose gear.
Tower: Okay if you need any other assistance, advise…
Co-pilot: We’ll need all the [emergency] equipment you’ve got. [To Captain] Is it easier to control with the flaps up?
Captain: Yeah put em’ at five. Can you give me a vee speed for a flaps five landing?
Co-pilot: Do you want the flaps down as we land?
Captain: Yeah after we touch down
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, just for your information. The gear appears down. Gear appears down.
Co-pilot to Captain: Want me to go flaps forty…?
Cockpit: [Sound of touchdown on runway]
Co-pilot: Thrust reverser.
Captain: Okay. Okay. Shut it down.
Co-pilot: Shut it down.
Captain: Now left engine.
Tower: Alhoa two forty three, just shut her down where you are. Everything [is] fine. The gear did…The fire trucks are on the way.
Cockpit: [Sound of engines winding down]
Captain: Okay, start the call for the emergency evacuation.
END OF TAPE.
The Boeing 737 of Alhoa Flight 243 was manufactured in 1969 and had accumulated 35,496 flying hours and 89,680 take - off - landing cycles. The cause of the separation of the ceiling of the aircraft was attributed to static overstress separations. The airplane was old, and the cycles of pressurisation and depressurisation had weakened parts of the fuselage. One flight Attendant was killed. All the passengers landed safely, though 65 of them were injured to varying degrees, mostly