NTSB, Coast Guard investigate crash of Boeing 737 cargo plane off Oahu

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Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 7:00 AM HST|Updated: Jul. 3, 2021 at 3:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Boeing 737-200 plane that crashed off West Oahu early Friday was operated by Transair, which manages an all-cargo fleet in the islands.

The company said in a statement that it was working with the Coast Guard, FAA and NTSB to “secure the scene and investigate the cause” of the crash.

The NTSB said it has deployed a 10-investigator team to Oahu in the wake of the crash.

Two investigators arrived Friday afternoon and began on-scene coordination. NTSB said the rest of the investigators are expected to arrive on Oahu on Saturday evening.

“Team specialties include air traffic control, systems, maintenance records, human performance, operations, powerplants and structures/wreckage recovery,” the NTSB said, in a post on Twitter.

On Saturday, the US Coast Guard continued its salvage operation following the crash.

According to images posted by the Coast Guard on Twitter, among the cargo that was retrieved from the area were stuffed animals.

Officials have not disclosed the contents of other storage containers retrieved during the operation. Crews are working with the NTSB and partners in the investigation.

A safety zone remains in place surrounding the salvage operation, said officials.

The Coast Guard said the Transair Flight 810 crew reported engine trouble and was attempting to return to Honolulu about 1:30 a.m. when they were forced to ditch the craft in the water.

One of the pilots was critically injured in the crash, while the second was in serious condition. At last check, the Coast Guard said they were both in stable condition.

Peter Forman, a Hawaii aviation expert, said it is “very rare” for large aircraft to crash. The Boeing 737-200, he added, is capable of operating on one engine. In this case, both engines failed.

“It’s something that you don’t normally train for,” he said, adding that landing in the water would have required significant skills. “I think they played it about right. That’s pretty hard.”

Pilot and aviation expert Laura Einsetler discusses Boeing 737 cargo plane crash off Kalaeloa.

He added, “When you get into that situation, you’re really having to rely on your experience.”

Pilot and aviation expert Laura Einsetler agreed that it’s “very unusual” for a large aircraft like the Boeing 737-200 to lose both of its 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,” she said.

Einsetler added: “They obviously didn’t have much time” before deciding to attempt a water landing. You train for things like ditching. That’s one of the worst case scenarios.”

The Coast Guard said the plane did sink after crashing, but the tail was on the surface of the water when rescue crews arrived. By the time the pilots were rescued, the plane was underneath the waves.

“It’s probably not a coincidence for two engines to fail so close to each other so there’s got to be some reason for that to happen so close to each other,” Forman said, adding NTSB investigators will be looking at such potential problems as bird strikes, engine fuel leak issues and other concerns.

Forman said maintenance regulations for cargo aircraft are “pretty high.”

But, he added, such planes tend to be older. The one that came down early Friday was built in 1975.

In a statement Friday, Boeing said it was monitoring the situation. “We are in contact with the US National Transportation Safety Board and are working to gather more information.”

This story will be updated.

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