Let's Go to Hawaii
In 1975 my friend Leslie’s Uncle Hans was managing a hotel on Waikiki, Hawaii. He invited us to visit for two weeks. We wahine headed out for a greater adventure than we could imagine — even after seeing Jaws.
We managed to make it to Chicago unscathed. I was particularly interested in the flying since I had just finished pilot ground school. So I paid close attention. We had not made it to the actual plane when they announced they were having hydraulic problems. It was delayed a couple of hours. But that never phased us haole. We just worked on our Hawaiian slang. And just contemplated flying in a 747 for the first time.
When we made it to the plane, our seats were on the port side, sitting next to an exit door, midway in coach, near the flight attendant station and lift elevator that goes to the basement (or whatever it’s called). Behind our seats was the communication station.
We headed for the taxiway.
Engines worked their way to full take off speed. About halfway down the runway the engines suddenly stopped; the pilot announced we were returning to the take-off position again. He said, “It appears we nearly hit another plane cross traffic.”
O’Hare had runways that were perpendicular.
So off we went down the runway, full blast, wiki wiki. As we rotated, there was a big crunch, bang. I didn’t think much about it because I thought it was undercarriage coming up. The group of teenagers in front of our seats leaped up, looked left out the windows, and sat back down.
Immediately, behind us we heard an attendant, evidently talking with the cockpit. She said, “We lost an elevator?” On a large plane like that one little ol’ elevator doesn’t scare me.
Then the little lift elevator to right of our seats came swooping up, opening with a few attendants who immediately began pulling items from the overheads and racks, stashing them here and there. They also began telling passengers to stash loose items in the pockets and so forth.
We were up in the air about 45 minutes before we heard from the pilot. He announced, “We are dumping fuel over Lake Michigan.” Then every five minutes he would give instructions like, “Please take out the emergency procedure card in the pocket and study the floor plan.” He continued with, “Anyone located at the exit doors who is not strong enough to help with the exit doors, please change seats with another who is.” So, Leslie and I were guided to seats in the center, changing with some big kahunas.
Sitting next to us were Japanese passengers who seemed to not speak English. They looked like they didn’t understand what was happening.
In the meantime, the pilot told us to practice bending forward, taking off our shoes and glasses. I reluctantly pocketed my camera as well. I said to Leslie I hope I get my camera back. She said she was glad she paid off her Penney’s bill.
Then the pilot announced, “It appears we sliced a tire. We will be flying closely over the tower to have it checked. Then we will go around for landing. When I say hit the deck do the emergency position. When we come to a stop, don’t take a thing with you, head for the closest exit, and don’t stop.”
So we flew close – really close – to the tower. Then headed around to the final approach. We appeared to be close to the ground (looked like 50 feet to me). The pilot came on and said we will be okay.
Mahalo nui loa!
The landing was rough, and we limped around to the gate. Leslie and I decided we were going to wait until everyone had exited so we might be able to figure out what happened to our left.
Immediately, there was a gaggle of FAA type people with badges who swept down the aisles. We took a look to the left of where we had been. There was a huge hole (puka) in the left wing, making up about half the wing in the middle.
Amazing flying talents.
We were later told that the cargo door flew off, sliced a tire and flew up through the left wing. This was almost the same thing that happened in the Netherlands not long before our trip, in the 1970s, where several hundred died.
We waited a half day to get another plane and everyone on the stricken plane continued on west to Hawaii. Okole maluna.
While at the Kodak music/dance show on Oahu, we overheard a couple talking about a most harrowing flight they had. We asked how things were where they sat. They said they were in the front of the plane, and there was some panic on faces and some were crying.
I guess our group was tougher ... or didn’t get the whole picture.
Submitted in appreciation of the 50th anniversary of the Boeing 747. To read about the reign of the "queen of the skies," see this article in The Conversation by history professor Janet Bednarek.