‘Let the Coast Guard Know’: Cargo Jet Ditches, Triggering Rescue

A Boeing Co. 737 freighter ditched in Hawaiian coastal waters after experiencing engine trouble early Friday, and both pilots were safe after a dramatic pre-dawn rescue by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Transair Flight 810’s crew tried to return to Honolulu shortly after takeoff but were forced to make an emergency landing, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. safety investigators immediately began a formal probe of the incident off the coast of Oahu.

What began as a relatively routine failure of a single engine worsened after several minutes as the pilots attempted to return for a landing, according to a recording of air-traffic radio calls posted by LiveATC.net.

“We’re gonna lose the other engine too,” the pilot radioed. “We’re low on the speed. It doesn’t look good.”

After a controller at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport told the crew the airport fire department had been alerted, a pilot responded: “You need to let the Coast Guard know.”

Minutes later, the controller said, “It looks like they went down in the water.”

The plane was a 46-year-old version of Boeing’s workhorse twin-engine 737, predating by decades the new Max passenger model that was ordered grounded for 20 months after two fatal crashes. The emergency water landing off Hawaii is the second major incident this year of an older 737. In January, a Sriwijaya Air passenger flight crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing all 62 people aboard the 737-500.

‘Let the Coast Guard Know’: Cargo Jet Ditches, Triggering Rescue

The 737 family is the most popular jetliner ever built and has a historic accident rate that is comparable those of similar planes.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of seven investigators to the accident site. Boeing said it was in contact with safety officials as did Pratt & Whitney, a division of Raytheon Technologies Corp., which supplied the JT8D engines used by the 737-200.

Boeing fell less than 1% to $237.75 at 2:17 p.m. in New York. Raytheon climbed less than 1% to $86.86.

Representatives of Transair didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment before normal business hours in Honolulu.

‘Are You Able to Climb?’

Flight 810, branded as Transair and operated by Rhoades Aviation Inc., took off for Kahului a little after 1:30 a.m. local time and climbed to around 2,100 feet (640 meters), according to a track posted by Flightradar24.com.

The aircraft made a right turn over the ocean and circled back toward the airport, ditching in the water about 11 minutes later. The track provided by FlightRadar24 doesn’t show the normally smooth altitude and speeds of a typical flight, suggesting the pilots may have been struggling to control the plane.

In the air-traffic recording, the controller initially tells the aircraft to “maintain 2,000 if that’s the altitude you like” and asks for more details about their emergency.

A pilot responded that “all that is good” and said he would provide the information in “a little bit.”

But the situation quickly deteriorated during the short time they were aloft. Apparently responding to an alert in the tower that the flight was too low, the controller asked, “Are you able to climb at all?”

“No, negative,” the pilot responded.

After initially advising the plane to return to Honolulu, telling them they were “cleared to land any runway,” the controller told them Kalaeloa Airport was closer.

“We’d like the closest airport runway please,” one of the pilots responded.

Two calls from air traffic control to the crew then apparently went unanswered.

Sully Flight

Engine failures that lead to the loss of a jet are extremely rare. The 737, like all twin-engine aircraft, is designed to fly on a single engine if one malfunctions, and maintenance programs are designed to ensure that the same issue doesn’t occur on both engines at the same time.

While it’s not clear what happened with the Transair plane, the pilots suggested they lost both engines.

Among the potential causes would be a maintenance error on both powerplants, problems with the fuel or a miscue in how the pilots responded to the initial emergency.

In 2009, a US Airways jet plowed into a flock of birds in New York and lost power in both engines -- the plane that pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger famously landed on the Hudson River.

Jets are designed to be able to ditch in water and float for a period of time, according to federal regulations.

Pratt has produced more than 14,000 of its JT8D engines since the low-bypass turbofan entered service on the Boeing 727 in 1964, according to the engine maker’s website. About roughly 2,400 are still in use.

Transair began operations in 1982 and says it provides the longest-running all-cargo service in Hawaii. It specializes in inter-island transport between all major Hawaiian destinations, according to its website.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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