Southwest Airlines plane comes within 400ft of slamming into ocean near Hawaii

Former pilot says aborted landing attempt would have felt like a ‘rollercoaster ride’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 17 June 2024 05:01 BST
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A Southwest Airlines flight plunged within 400 feet of the ocean near Hawaii in April, according to a newly-revealed memo.

The document, shared with the airline’s pilots last week and obtained by Bloomberg News, stated that a Boeing 737 Max 8 briefly plunged at an unusually fast 4,000 feet per minute before the crew pulled out. The April 11 incident occurred after adverse weather conditions led the pilots to pull out of a landing attempt.

There were no injuries and the flight returned to Honolulu. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) told The Independent that it is investigating the incident.

The Independent has contacted Southwest Airlines for comment. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it has information to release at this point.

The incident comes amid other reported safety issues after airlines increased flights following the pandemic. Southwest is facing increasing pressure from Elliott Investment Management, as well as other investor, as it struggles with its finances, Bloomberg reported.

“Nothing is more important to Southwest than safety,” the airline told the outlet. “Through our robust Safety Management System, the event was addressed appropriately as we always strive for continuous improvement.”

Data from the flight tracking site, ADS-B Exchange, reveals that the flight plunged from 1,000ft to 400ft in just a few seconds on April 11. It then began to climb quickly.

Former pilot and flight instructor Kit Darby told Bloomberg that the pilot was “pitching up and pitching down with the power and close to out of control — very close. It would feel like a rollercoaster ride.”

The Southwest review shows that the incident took place after a landing attempt was unsuccessful in harsh weather conditions and pilots had been unable to see the runway.

The memo states that the captain chose to put the “newer” first officer in charge during the short flight despite the bad weather.

The first officer “inadvertently” pushed forward on the control column. The officer was following the movement of the thrust lever caused by the plane’s automatic throttle.

The pilot subsequently decreased the speed, and the descent began. Alarms sounded, stating that they were getting too close to the surface, prompting the captain to order the first officer to up the thrust, causing the plane to climb “aggressively” at 8,500 feet per minute, the memo stated.

Darby told the outlet that flights approaching an airport for landing usually descend at about 1,500 to 2,000 feet per minute, slowing down to about 800 feet when the aircraft is about five miles away.

The Southwest review found that pilot monitoring and improved communication between crew members is vital. It said it would look at internal and industry data connected to its protocols for procedures and training.

In December 2022, a United Airlines flight came within around 750 feet of the ocean after it plunged just after takeoff. Investigations by the FAA and NTSB found that the incident was caused by miscommunication between the pilots on the plane.

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