On United Airlines flight 811, the cargo door suddenly opens in-flight and tears a portion of the fuselage. The crew attempts landing back in Honolulu.

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Episode credited cast:
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Narrator (voice)
Jano Frandsen ...
David Cronin - Captain
Chris Gibson ...
Al Salder - Co-Pilot
...
Mark Thomas - Flight Engineer
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Kevin Campbell ...
Himself - Father of Lee Campbell
Lee Campbell ...
Himself (archive footage)
Susan Campbell ...
Herself - Mother of Lee Campbell
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On United Airlines flight 811, the cargo door suddenly opens in-flight and tears a portion of the fuselage. The crew attempts landing back in Honolulu. Written by Sergio Ortega

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explosive decompression | See All (1) »


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10 September 2003 (Canada)  »

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NTSB -- Not a Good Guy This Time.
28 July 2017 | by See all my reviews

A United Boeing 747 lifts off from Honolulu to New Zealand. Less than an hour into the flight, at 27,000 feet, there is a loud explosion and depressurization. There is a large hole aft of the flight deck and nine passengers and their seats are sucked out. The oxygen masks are ripped out and disappear as well.

The airplane is now weakened by the loss of first one engine, then another, both on the right side. And they are at 27,000 feet. Mount Everest is 22,000 feet in altitude. The pilots take the airplane and its terrified passengers down in an extreme angle of descent until the air becomes breathable. Despite everything, the plane reaches Honolulu and lands safely.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the problem was that a cargo door hadn't been properly closed and locked. Some mechanic had closed it by hand and "abused" the door.

It was the wrong diagnosis. But the NTSB, United Airlines, and Boeing hadn't counted on the determination of the parents of one of the passengers, Lee Campbell, who was killed, to find out what actually happened. The parents lived in New Zealand and the father was an engineer who knew exactly what he was doing.

At their own expense, the Campbells flew to the US, rented a car, made several circuits of the country, chasing down officials, airplane parts and survivors, and found that the problem lay with a short circuit in the wiring that controlled the cargo door. The cables were so old they cracked, arced, and opened the cargo door without command.

The NTSB and Boeing were already aware of the problem but had given the airlines as long as two years to fix it. As one of the survivors explains, grounding all operational 747s at once would be immensely expensive, so the airlines were given a long time to fix the problem, one airplane at a time. It was cheaper to risk losing one airplane and its passengers every five or ten years when such a problem is encountered.

The Campbells asked for nothing for themselves, just that a scholarship be set up in their son's name. That's known as "altruism."


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