Hawaiian Airlines flew damaged plane

LIHU’E ” A Hawaiian Airlines jet that federal investigators say “sustained

substantial damage” during a landing at Lihu’e Airport earlier this summer

continued to fly passengers across the state for several more hours before

airline officials discovered the damage.

“I can tell you factually that it

was broken,” said Wayne Pollack, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

investigator in charge. “The aircraft was substantially broken. It sustained

substantial damage during the landing event.

“The integrity of the aircraft

was compromised. The aircraft was structurally damaged, so at that point did

not meet its type certificate.”

Pollack added that airworthiness of the

plane after the hard landing is an issue the NTSB is investigating.

Whether

or not the hard landing made the McDonnell Douglas DC-9-51 unfit to continue

flying passengers, Pollack said, is a matter for the Federal Aviation

Administration (FAA) to determine.

Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner

said the plane was out of service for the better part of two months while

repairs were made.

There is evidence that the tail section of the plane

scraped the runway upon landing, Pollack said. The NTSB investigation is

focusing on, among other things, the cockpit crew’s training, experience and

competency, he continued.

Pollack said special requirements must be met in

order for pilots to land at Lihu’e Airport, and part of the NTSB investigation

is looking into whether or not the Hawaiian Airlines pilots met those

rules.

According to FAA specifications, Lihu’e Airport is considered a

special airport with special qualifications required for pilots to land there,

because of the height of the nearby Hule’ia Mountains (Hoary Head Ridge)

That height could make instrument (non-visual) landing dangerous for

pilots not experienced at the airport. Since the Hawaiian Airlines pilots fly

regularly in and out of Lihu’e, the special requirements aren’t expected to be

an issue with the federal investigators.

A final report on the incident is

several months away, said Pollack, who was surprised to hear from The Garden

Island that some Kaua’i residents called the newspaper to say they suffered

injuries during the hard landing.

“If they are injured, they should call

me,” so that the NTSB can add that information to its investigation, said

Pollack.

Separate investigations continue by the NTSB and FAA into the

cause of the hard landing, which both agencies say caused no injuries.

But

after reporting in an article that there were no injuries in the incident, the

newspaper received several telephone calls and e-mails from people who were on

the flight, including at least two who said they were injured during the

landing.

One passenger, Vicky Stofleth, 38, a mother of five from Kapa’a

who had been commuting to the University of Hawai’i at Manoa to get a degree

that she hoped would lead to a good-paying job, was in tears when she

telephoned a reporter after the first story ran.

She said she was

devastated by the event and had to stop commuting because of injuries suffered

during the landing.

She suffered a sacroiliac separation, where the

triangular bone at the base of the back separated from the pelvis. Hawaiian

Airlines, she said, offered to pay only for her physical therapy, which

continues three times a week some three months after the accident.

She

wanted Hawaiian to pay for her medical expenses and for the year of college

that she had to forfeit because she was unable to travel to the university, but

the airline refused, she said.

Another passenger on the plane, a North

Shore resident who didn’t wish to be identified as she still flies on Hawaiian

on business several times a month, said the landing injured her, as well,

requiring her to undergo physical therapy.

When traveling inter-island on

business, she avoids flight 193, which leaves Honolulu around 4:15 p.m. for

arrival at Lihu’e at about 4:50 p.m. That was the full flight (five crew, 134

passengers) that experienced the hard landing in mid-June.

“The issue that

I am worried about is that it says there’s no injuries,” she said of the NTSB

preliminary report. “That really bugs me.”

When she went to the hospital

after the incident, Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency room personnel told her

four or five other people had come in with various injuries associated with the

same landing, she said.

She said a Hawaiian Airlines contact person told

her husband that the tail section of the plane hit the runway at about the same

time the landing gear did.

The incident left her shaken.

“I don’t even

like to fly any more, and I have to fly for my job. It was a terrible

experience,” she said. “When we landed, there was stone silence. The only thing

that was said was, ‘Don’t touch the oxygen masks’ that had fallen down. Nobody

said ‘Welcome to Lihu’e,’ ‘Sorry about that landing,’ nothing. Nobody said a

word.”

Some of those around her were also shaken, with nervous laughter

being heard and comments like “`Well, that was a controlled crash,'” she said.

Somebody else said remarked, “`Anything you can get up and walk out of is a

good landing,” she said.

Hawaiian Airlines’ insurance company, United

States Aviation Underwriters, is paying her physical therapy expenses, she

said. She said the therapy is for back and neck injuries.

The North Shore

resident was seated at the rear of the plane on a full flight.

Her husband

said FAA investigators are interested in speaking to people who were injured on

the flight and other passengers on that same plane.

The FAA investigation,

according to Mike Spencer, FAA aviation safety inspector, focuses on crew

competency, aircraft airworthiness, airport weather and other conditions, air

traffic control facilities and other factors.

“To the best of my knowledge,

there were no injuries. If (anyone was injured), then the NTSB would certainly

like to hear from them,” Spencer said. “If a passenger were injured in an

aircraft accident, then that would be primarily an NTSB concern.”

Spencer

confirmed that the damage to the plane wasn’t discovered until a routine

walk-around inspection conducted after the plane had flown several additional

inter-island flights and was done flying for the night”a fact also confirmed by

Hawaiian Airlines’ Wagner.

“We didn’t get any reports of injuries.

According to our operations people, there weren’t any reports of injuries,”

Wagner said. “Sometimes, subsequent to when these things happen, we hear from

people, and I don’t know whether that might be the case in this instance or

not.”

Later, Wagner confirmed that two passengers have contacted the

airline, which had requested but not received medical records and other claims

information.

Spencer said for “turnaround” flights such as Hawaiian and

Aloha Airlines fly between Honolulu and Lihu’e, there is no regulation stating

pilots must do walk-arounds during every stop.

While the FAA does mandate

that aircraft only carry passengers if the plane is airworthy, it is up to the

airline and pilots to determine airworthiness, Spencer said.

Staff

writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) and [

HREF=”mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net”>pcurtis@pulitzer.net]

(Staff photo

by Dennis Fujimoto)

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