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2 pilots rescued after Boeing 737 cargo plane crashes in water shortly after takeoff from Honolulu

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 3:07 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 2, 2021 at 10:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The FAA and NTSB are investigating after a Boeing 737-200 cargo plane crashed two miles off West Oahu early Friday, leaving one of the pilots onboard critically injured and a second in serious condition. Authorities said both engines on the plane apparently failed.

Coast Guard crews received the first call about the downed craft about 1:40 a.m. Officials said the cargo plane ― Transair Flight 810 ― had just departed from Honolulu and was heading to Kahului when it ran into trouble. The pilots had only minutes to make the call to ditch in the water.

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“We’ve lost number one engine and we’re coming straight to the airport. We’re pretty low on speed. It doesn’t look good,” one of the pilots told air traffic controllers, according to audio recordings.

A short time later, air traffic controllers issued a “low altitude alert” to the pilots.

“Are you able to climb at all?” a controller can be heard asking. “Negative,” one of the pilots responds.

Coast Guard helicopter rescuers spotted the debris field and oil slick in the water about 2:30 a.m., about five minutes after deploying. They said the plane’s tail was still above water when they arrived.

And on the tail they spotted one of the pilots frantically waving his arms to get their attention.

The other pilot was floating on a bed of cargo.

Coast Guard Lt. Gleb Borovok told HNN that crews planned to first use a rescue swimmer to pick up the man who was floating on the cargo. But within seconds of arriving on scene, the crashed aircraft’s tail sunk and the pilot who had been on downed aircraft was in the water, struggling to remain afloat.

The rescue swimmer was able to get to the pilot in the water, and he was airlifted to the Queen’s Medical Center. The 58-year-old was reportedly in the intensive care unit in critical condition.

Coast Guard Lt. Alex Mead said the critically injured pilot was so exhausted by the time he was pulled to safety that he could no longer verbally communicate. “He definitely hit the point of exhaustion, where a few seconds more and we’re not entirely sure where he may have been,” he said.

A rescue boat brought the other pilot to shore, where Emergency Medical Services treated the 50-year-old and transported him to the hospital in serious condition with a head injury and multiple lacerations.

In addition to the Coast Guard, multiple agencies deployed in the wake of the emergency, including state and county firefighters, Emergency Medical Services and the state Department of Transportation.

The NTSB said that it would be sending a team of 10 investigators to Oahu in the wake of the crash, but it wasn’t immediately clear how ― or when ― they would pull the wreckage out.

In addition to the plane in the water, there’s also reportedly a large oil and debris field.

Aviation experts called the loss of both engines on a 737-200 very rare, and said an emergency landing in the water is also an unusual occurrence ― and one that requires significant skills.

“It’s very unusual to have issues with two separate engines ... and then trying to make it back to Honolulu and having such a catastrophic situation that they had to ditch, this is highly unusual,” said pilot and aviation expert Laura Einsetler, adding that 737s are designed to fly on a single engine.

“You train for things like ditching but obviously, that’s one of the worst case situations.”

Added aviation expert Peter Forman: “At night, it’s much harder to judge your altitude and your sink rate. It was a challenge and I’m glad these guys did OK with it.”

The Boeing 737-200 cargo aircraft, operated for cargo company Transair, was built in 1975. Boeing and Transair both said they were working with the NTSB and FAA in the wake of the crash.

DOT spokesman Jai Cunningham said the crash did not interrupt any air traffic Friday morning.

A cargo plane crashed in waters off Oahu early Friday shortly after takeoff.
A cargo plane crashed in waters off Oahu early Friday shortly after takeoff.(Graphic)

In addition to its MH-65 helicopter, the Coast Guard also used a C-130 plane and small boat in rescue operations. Other agencies also responded with boats, helicopters and aircraft.

Transair has operated since 1982, flying cargo flights around the islands.

The company describes itself as one of Hawaii’s largest air cargo providers, providing inter-island cargo service with a fleet of five Boeing 737s along with other aircraft.

This story will be updated.

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