Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 Comes Within 400 Feet of the Ocean Near Hawaii

By Ivan PetrenkoJun 16, 2024 17:10 PMNews
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Airbus A320 prepares to land
Airbus A320 prepares to land. Source: unsplash

On April 11th, 2024, Southwest Airlines Flight 2786 experienced a severe altitude drop while approaching Lihue Airport (LIH) in Hawaii. The Boeing 737 MAX 8, which was on a short flight from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL), descended rapidly, coming within 400 feet of the ocean's surface before recovering.

The aircraft, carrying passengers from HNL to LIH, aborted its landing and safely returned to its departure airport. No injuries were reported among the passengers or crew, who were secured for landing at the time of the incident.

The flight, operated by a two-year-old Boeing 737 MAX 8, experienced this dramatic descent approximately 28 minutes into the flight. The aircraft's descent rate reached nearly 4,400 feet per minute before the crew managed to regain control. The situation was exacerbated by the turbulent weather conditions the aircraft encountered during its approach to LIH.

Upon the aircraft's sudden drop, the crew initiated a climb at a rate of over 8,500 feet per minute, an intense maneuver likely felt by passengers. The flight eventually diverted back to HNL without further incident, and the event was later addressed by Southwest Airlines through their Safety Management System.

An internal memo revealed that pilot error was identified as the primary cause of the near-tragedy. The flight crew included an experienced captain and a first officer on their first flight to LIH. Despite challenging weather conditions and previous missed approaches by other aircraft, the captain allowed the first officer to handle the approach for training purposes. This decision, combined with the deteriorating weather and an inadvertent push forward on the controls during a go-around, led to the rapid descent.

The crew's corrective actions included participation in an Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) and a Human Factors interview, ensuring that such incidents are thoroughly analyzed and mitigated in the future.

Southwest Airlines emphasized their commitment to safety in a statement, highlighting the continuous improvements and robust measures in place to address such events. The FAA and NTSB are also involved in the investigation, seeking to prevent similar occurrences.

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