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Plane Flew For 13 Minutes With Its Roof Partially Torn Off And Managed To Safely Land

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On April 28th, 1988, people boarded an airplane in Hilo, Hawaii and would experience one of most eventful flights in aviation history. Just when the plane had hit its cruising altitude of 24,000 feet, it experienced an explosive decompression which tore a huge section of roof off the fuselage and caused the airplane to rapidly descend. It was carrying:

  • 90 passengers
  • 3 flight attendants
  • 2 pilots

One person, flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing, was thrown from the plane and assumed dead (though her body was never found). The other passengers and crew miraculously survived thanks to the strong piloting of Robert Schornstheimer and Madeline Tompkins.

Photos from the event are incredible: 

Amazingly, Schornstheimer piloted the aircraft for 13 minutes without a roof before it touched down in Maui without any other fatalities occurring.

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65 people were injured, with 8 considered serious but in all it is considered a successful emergency landing.

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Schornstheimer and Tompkins (the first officer of the plane who was actually piloting when the incident originally occurred) had to land the plane without knowing for certain if the landing gear had deployed properly.

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Without being able to control the plane very well, the crew had to put their faith in the machinery that had already failed them and hope that the landing would be successful. The landing gear deployed properly and the plane landed despite descending much faster than usual.

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With so many people needing medical assistance after the landing, the airport and city was unprepared to take them all in emergency vehicles.

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Drivers from Akamai Tours, a shuttle bus company instead brought all of their 15-passenger vans to the plane to carry injured passengers to the hospital. Two of the drivers were even former medics, who set up a triage station on the runway.

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 The situation changed the way aircraft are inspected and emergency procedures carried out, since it could have been a much more devastating incident had the landing gear not held up or if the decompression happened when passengers were not buckled in.

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In 2011, the FAA introduced new rules for maintenance and durability for passenger jets. Aloha Airlines flight 243 would have failed many of the new regulations.

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The new regulation forces planes out of service after 34,000 flight cycles or hours, whichever comes first. This plane had nearly 90,000 cycles on it when it broke apart.

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Miracle Landing, a made-for-tv movie was filmed about the event starring Wayne Rogers as Schornstheimer and Connie Sellecca as Tompkins.

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 Though Lansing’s body was never found, many passengers on the flight report that she was sucked out as the plane started ripping apart. According to one report, everyone near her tried to hold her as she was lifted from the ground.

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The idea of flying a decompressed plane is outlandish, but on one day in April, two pilots not only piloted it for 13 minutes, but landed it and got almost everyone home safely.

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