History of the Flight (continued)

At 1325, flight 243 departed Hilo Airport en route to Honolulu as part of the normal scheduled service. In addition to the two pilots, there were three flight attendants, an FAA air traffic controller, who was seated in the observer seat in the cockpit, and 89 passengers on board. Passenger boarding, engine start, taxi, and takeoff were uneventful.

The planned routing for Aloha flight 243 was from Hilo to Honolulu at flight level 240. Maui was listed as the alternate landing airport.

The first officer conducted the takeoff and en route climb from Hilo. The captain performed the nonflying pilot duties. The first officer did not recall using the autopilot.

The flight was conducted in visual meteorological conditions. There were no advisories for significant meteorological information (SIGMET) or airman's meteorological information (AIRMET) valid for the area along the planned route of flight.

No unusual occurrences were noted by either crewmember during the departure and climbout. As the airplane leveled at 24,000 feet, both pilots heard a loud "clap" or "whooshing" sound followed by a wind noise behind them. The first officer's head was jerked backward, and she stated that debris, including pieces of gray insulation, was floating in the cockpit. The captain observed that the cockpit entry door was missing and that there was blue sky where the first-class ceiling had been. The captain immediately took over the controls of the airplane. He described the airplane attitude as rolling slightly left and right and that the flight controls felt "loose."

Because of the decompression, both pilots and the air traffic controller in the observer seat donned their oxygen masks. The captain began an emergency descent. He stated that he extended the speed brakes and descended at an indicated airspeed (IAS) of 280 to 290 knots. Because of ambient noise, the pilots initially used hand signals to communicate. The first officer stated that she observed a rate of descent of 4,100 feet per minute at some point during the emergency descent. The captain also stated that he actuated the passenger oxygen switch. The passenger oxygen manual tee handle was not actuated.

When the decompression occurred, all the passengers were seated and the seat belt sign was illuminated. The No. 1 flight attendant reportedly was standing at seat row 5. According to passenger observations, the flight attendant was immediately swept out of the cabin through a hole in the left side of the fuselage. The No. 2 flight attendant, standing by row 15/16, was thrown to the floor and sustained minor bruises. She was subsequently able to crawl up and down the aisle to render assistance and calm the passengers. The No. 3 flight attendant, standing at row 2, was struck in the head by debris and thrown to the floor. She suffered serious injuries including a concussion and severe head lacerations.

The first officer said she tuned the transponder to emergency code 7700 and attempted to notify Honolulu Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) that the flight was diverting to Maui. Because of the cockpit noise level, she could not hear any radio transmissions, and she was not sure if the Honolulu ARTCC heard the communication.

Although Honolulu ARTCC did not receive the first officer's initial communication, the controller working flight 243 observed an emergency code 7700 transponder return about 23 nautical miles (nmi) south-southeast of the Kahului Airport, Maui. Starting at 1348:15, the controller attempted to communicate with the flight several times without success.

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