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Aborted Landing

Photo from our first landing attempt
Our first landing attempt on a clear, sunny Honolulu afternoon.

Date: November 27, 2004
Flight: Aloha Airlines Flight 241 from Hilo to Honolulu
Time: Depart Hilo 1:40 PM Arrive Honolulu 2:27 PM (time approximate)
Equipment: Boeing 737-200 Series N819AL

The end of my week long Thanksgiving vacation arrived on Saturday. As usual I departed the Big Island of Hawaii from Hilo International Airport on Aloha Airlines’ 1:40 PM flight to Honolulu. The reliable old Boeing 737-200 jet ride out of Hilo on a clear, sunny day was as routine as routine could be. We boarded the plane and took off as any flight normally does from Hilo making the climb out of the airport area and over the ocean before gradually turning left on a heading for Honolulu.

We flew over the Hawaiian islands in nice, pleasant weather. The sun was out, the clouds below fluffy here and there, though somewhat thicker over the islands of Maui and Molokai. From my window seat on the right hand side of the plane, I could easily identify the islands of Maui and Molokai to the right of the aircraft, and somewhat directly underneath us, the islands of Kahoolawe and Lanai passing by below. The flight was full and the passengers were settled in for the 40 minute flight to Honolulu. The complimentary drinks were served as they usually are on these interisland flights. I had the usual pint-sized carton of fruit juice.

By the time we passed the island of Molokai, the plane started its gradual descent into Honolulu. The weather ahead was clear, the flight and descent were routinely smooth, as they always are and always should be.

From my window seat next near the wing exhaust of the #2 engine the island of Oahu grew ever so near. Off in the distance a series of rain clouds cast brief, colorful rainbows as the plane continued its descent. Closer and closer, I could make out the familiar features of our Honolulu — Koko Head Crater, Hawaii Kai, Diamond Head, Waikiki, Downtown, Kalihi and the Airport area.

The reef runway was a couple of thousand feet to my right side view. Off in the distance I could see the two shorter runways that run parallel with Lagoon Drive on the airport’s far side. There was an aircraft positioned for takeoff on the reef runway. There were no aircraft that I could see on the 2 short runways. We were not headed to any of them.

Aloha 737-200 N819AL Climb out of Hilo Airport Photo from our first landing attempt Successful second attempt

Photos: Unfortunately I have no photos of the actual incident except for these before and after shots. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger version of 3 of the 4 photos. Photos taken with Sony Cybershot U30 digital camera.

Our 737 was headed to the main runway that starts at the end of Hickam Air Force Base and passes in front of the main terminal complex. I believe this is the runway known as 8R-26L. As the plane headed over in descent toward the Hickam/Pearl Harbor area I could see that runway come into view.

As airliners normally do, we would have to make a right turn shortly before final descent to line up with the runway.

There was one thing perceptively wrong with our descent path. I could see two aircraft parked at the end of our runway. From my vantage point over my window wing seat, I could see what I believe were 2 Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717s that were awaiting clearance for takeoff. One was to the left of the runway, the other was on the runway itself obviously awaiting final takeoff clearance. Our aircraft had not made the right turn at the moment, because I could still see this runway and those aircraft.

I thought to myself, “that is kind of unusual, there are aircraft on the runway and we seem to be headed for the same place. I wonder if the one 717 would leave in time before we made our final approach.”

Our airliner made the right turn and was obviously lined up with the runway only a couple minutes away from landing. Thoughts about a possible collision fleetingly raced through my mind as I wondered whether or not the Boeing 717 had taken off shortly before we landed.

In a few seconds I knew.

I say our aircraft was about a couple hundred feet at most from touching down when I began to feel the aircraft accelerating. We were obviously aborting our landing.

Sure enough we began a fairly rapid but not very steep ascent. The 717 on the runway below had become a problem. We climbed up higher as the pilot made a right turn over the Ewa end of the runway. At this point I was not too sure. The view below kind of disappeared or I probably turned to the other passenger sitting next to me to explain to him that we were in an abort mode. Our plane continued its acceleration as we flew out to the ocean in a climb that probably took us another thousand feet or so before leveling off.

Taking a joy ride over the ocean outside of Ewa Beach was certainly a better option than crashing into the aircraft we just avoided below. The plane straightened out and in a few minutes we began to make the turn again and started our descent once more for landing.

I was probably the only one aware of our situation in my section of the plane before it happened. The 2 passengers sitting next to me asked me a couple of questions as we circled over the ocean before starting our second descent. As I was sort of explaining our situation, the captain came over the intercom to briefly announce our situation and to pardon them for the slight inconvenience. Yeah, right.

I don’t think it was an “inconvenience” to have to take a short detour from what could have been a disastrous landing. Surely the flight crew did the right thing by aborting our initial landing and taking the aircraft around for a second try.

Shortly before our second landing attempt, the lady in the row in front of me asked whether or not the runway was clear. Since we had to make the same right turn before landing, I could see that runway 8R-26L was indeed clear this time. No aircraft nearby.

On a clear, sunny Saturday afternoon Aloha Airlines flight 241 made a routinely safe, and successful landing on its second attempt. As the plane touched down the pilot threw the aircraft into reverse thrust to rapidly slow the plane down so that we did not have to taxi to the interisland terminal from the far end of the runway. (I notice that they are doing this quite often even though there is a lot of runway leftover for a more “relaxed” landing. Probably a cost saving move in an effort to save a small amount of fuel from excessively long taxi times.)

Without further incident, we safely made it to the terminal where everyone deplaned and departed in the usual way common to every interisland flight that ends in Honolulu.

Our landing incident begs a few questions here. Who was at fault for putting two aircraft on the same runway doing two different things? I think it could more than likely be a mistake on the part of the control tower. I don’t know. Could it be pilot error? I would rather think not as interisland airline pilots make these trips a daily routine. How could anyone mistake the long runway over the two shorter runways out by Lagoon Drive?

I guess those questions will never be answered. I checked the Federal Aviation Administration’s incident report website for the past 2 days, and have not seen anything posted about our incident. Perhaps safely aborted landings are not worth reporting. I don’t know. I would consider this incident “a near miss” in my book. Perhaps further inquiry with Aloha Airlines customer service may yield a report. Maybe I’ll try that.


Copyright 2004 Melvin Ah Ching Productions. All Rights Reserved. | Last update to this page: November 30, 2004.