NTSB Begins Recovery Of Ditched Jet In Hawaii

By Spyros Georgilidakis | July 5, 2021

The NTSB announced that they have began recovery efforts for debris from the Transair Boeing 737-200, that ditched off the Hawaii coast.

Today (Monday), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in the United States, announced the recovery of the first debris of the ditched 737-200. The agency sent a total of ten investigators to Hawaii, to conduct this investigation. Authorities collected this first debris from the water’s surface. However, recovering the rest of the aircraft is proving to be a challenging operation.

NTSB Begins Recovery Of Ditched Jet In Hawaii
The accident aircraft. Photo: li cheng TSAI, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Hawaii islands are volcanic, meaning that they are essentially mountains, whose base begins miles below the surface. This means that even as close as 2 miles away from the shore, the sea can be surprisingly deep. In this case, the aircraft’s last radar return in Honolulu (still 50 feet above the sea) was at N21.275 W158.026. This is approximately 1.8 nm (3.33 km) from the coast. The sea there is about 400 feet (122m) deep.

The sea floor rises very quickly, towards the coast, and we know the aircraft was heading that way. So the NTSB will hope that recovery will not involve such extreme depths. But in any case, locating the wreckage will have to involve technical means. The NTSB has announced that they plan to use sonar for this first task.

The flight of the aircraft. Image: FlightRadar24


NTSB – Location And Recovery Of Key Aircraft Equipment

The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) often called “black boxes”, should have pingers, making locating them easier. But this is easier said than done. It is now clear that the 737 broke up on impact with the water, sinking rapidly afterwards. US Coast Guard video shows rough seas during recovery operations of the crew, which would have made ditching very hard. And of course it all happened at night.

Rough seas could affect recovery efforts for the NTSB, too. But first they need to find where the plane is, and in what state. We have previously seen how even relatively small sonar equipment can help locating planes underwater. A company making hydrographic survey equipment, recently re-discovered an old aircraft wreck in Folsom Lake in California. Depths in the case of the Transair 737 could be more extreme.

The sonar image of the small aircraft in Folsom Lake, CA. Image: Seafloor Systems Inc

But so will the recovery equipment the NTSB will use. And beyond the CVR and FDR, the bureau will pay particular interest in the aircraft’s engines. In a statement, the NTSB said:

That information will be used to determine how and when the recorders could be recovered and then how and if the airplane will be salvaged.

NTSB Begins Recovery Of Ditched Jet In Hawaii
The aircraft in 2015. Photo: Chris Hoare, CC BY 2.0, (cropped)


The Pilots’ Progress

After the pilots’ dramatic recovery, the NTSB will want to interview them, to shed light on this accident. Initial reports stated that one pilot was in critical condition, while the other’s condition was ‘serious’. Subsequent reports have described their condition as ‘stable’, with no further details. The NTSB will also interview air traffic controllers, maintenance workers and recovery/rescue personnel.

We previously reported on this accident on the 2nd of July, HERE. The crew of a Transair Boeing 737-200 freighter faced engine trouble, soon after take-off from Honolulu (PHNL). With only one engine appearing to have issues initially, the crew troubleshot it over the water, 2,000 feet high. But they subsequently reported that the other engine was overheating. Unable to reach either Honolulu International or nearby Kalaeloa Airport (PHJR), the crew had to ditch in the ocean.

NTSB Begins Recovery Of Ditched Jet In Hawaii

The airline has owned the 46 year-old aircraft, a 737-275C(A), tail number N810TA, for the past seven years. The operator of the jet is Rhoades Aviation Inc. In total, the company has another four 737-200 freighters.


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