Shortly after a Boeing 737-200 freighter took off from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Hawaii, on Friday evening, the plane, the crew said, started experiencing engine problems and had to ditch the twin-engine jet in the Pacific.
Upon hearing that, most pilots’ eyebrows would go on autopilot, raising themselves quizzically. The question, of course, is why did a twin-engine jet have to ditch in the Pacific because it lost an engine (if that is indeed what happened). Sully’s famous Hudson frolic was because the Airbus he was piloting along with first officer Jeff Skiles lost both engines. Otherwise, you just fly the plane back to the airport you left from (or a nearer one to where you are, depending on the circumstances). In the case of departing Honolulu at night, the nearest suitable airport is the one you just left from, but the crew couldn’t coax the plane back there.
The freighter had only the two crewmembers aboard. They stayed afloat for an hour in the dark with five-foot swells until they were found and rescued. They both used improvised rafts, one the plane’s tail (good to know!) and the other some packages that something tells us will never make it to the recipient. Reports say that both pilots were injured, though we don’t know the extent of those injuries. The miracle in this case, in addition to the successful ditching in rough seas, is that they were able to then get out of the plane and find something to float on until help arrived.
Back to the mystery. Why didn’t they just fly the stricken jet back to HNL instead of landing it on H2O? Theories abound, but there are only so many possibilities. One is that there were problems (or a shared problem) with both engines. Bad fuel or lack thereof? Maintenance anomaly? Too much weight to make it back on one engine? The surviving geese from the Miracle on The Hudson?
We don’t know either, but the NTSB is taking what seems like an extraordinary measure of saying that they’re going to go to the literal bottom of the Pacific to hopefully recovery the flight data and voice recorders to get to the figurative bottom of the mystery.
This is an intriguing mystery and, thankfully, one that involved no loss of life. We’ll keep you updated was we learn more.