An accident that sucked nine United passengers out of a Boeing jumbo jet over the Pacific Ocean resulted from failures by the airline, manufacturer and FAA to correct problems in cargo doors on 747 airliners, federal investigators said Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board voted 3-0 to accept the results of a more than 13-month investigation despite the fact a key piece of evidence in the Feb. 24, 1989, incident remains three miles under water: Flight 811's cargo door.The NTSB said United failed to properly inspect the door after its electrical system failed in December 1988 and mechanics had to operate it manually. The door had been operated electrically since then, however.
Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration were cited for failing to order timely corrective measures after another cargo door partially popped open on a 1987 Pan American jet flying from London to New York. That plane returned safely to London.
On Flight 811, the door ripped off at 22,000 feet. A piece of the fuselage was ripped off and the passengers and their seats were sucked out through the hole in the plane.
The plane, en route to New Zealand, returned to Honolulu. Five other passengers were seriously hurt and 33 had minor injuries.
United spokesman Robert Dowdy said the airline had complied with all FAA requirements except in one instance. That occurred after six words mandating an inspection were left out of an FAA regulation when it was copied into the company's system, he said.
Dowdy said that despite the oversight, the door had undergone three inspections since the December 1988 problem was corrected.
The board said the current cargo door system on 747s can indicate to the pilot that the door is locked when it is not. That's expected to be changed with an imminent FAA order that would require detectors on the locks, said Ron Schleed, investigator in charge for the accident.