Lee Campbell Flight 811 Investigation
Aviation Safety 409
United Airlines Flight 811 left Honolulu bound for Auckland, New Zealand on February 24, 1989. A few minutes in the flight the cargo doors blew out and because of the decompression, nine passengers were immediately sucked out of the plane. The debris from the cargo door damaged the planes Number 3 and 4 engines. Captain David Cronin prepared for an emergency landing. The parents of one of the fatalities, Lee Campbell, investigated the accident because they want to know what caused the cargo door to open in midair. Kevin and Susan Campbell were very persistent and relentless in their fight to prove that the cause of the cargo door opening is a malfunction in the electrical system of the locking mechanism. It would take them a few years and spend their own money just to prove their theory and prevent future accidents from happening. Their persistence paid off when the NTSB finally issued a report stating what the Campbell’s have been campaigning all along.
On February 24, 1989, United Airlines Flight 811 took off from Honolulu bound for New Zealand. The flight carried 337 passengers, 3 flight crew and 15 flight attendants. The pilots were Captain David Cronin, First Officer Al Slader and Flight Engineer Mark Thomas. After the plane has been in the air for16 minutes, the passengers heard a grinding sound followed by a loud thud which shook the aircraft. A few seconds later the cargo door blew out and the passengers right beside it were immediately ejected out of the airplane. One of the passengers was Lee Campbell. Engines number 3 and 4 were severely damaged from the debris that came from the cargo door that blew off. The debris also damaged the planes right wing LED (Leading Edge Devices) and dented the horizontal stabilizers on that side.
Captain Cronin ordered Flight Engineer Thomas to tell the crew to prepare for emergency landing, however he was not able to contact the crew. He then proceeded to go down to check what was happening. When he got down, he saw the extent of the damage to the aircraft. Immediately after leaving the cockpit, he saw that the skin was peeled off in some areas of the deck revealing the frames and stringers. As he went down to the lower deck, he saw the huge hole at the side of the plane and realized the magnitude of the damage. Thomas returned to the cockpit visibly shaken and reported the damage that he saw. At this point he suspected that it was probably a bomb and suggested that they not go over a speed of 250 knots. With limited information, Captain Cronin was able to land the plane without going off the runway. When the plane came to a halt, all passengers and crew were evacuated in 45 seconds. Some of the flight attendants suffered some injuries.
The question here is what caused the cargo doors to open? Was it human error or was it electrical in nature? Investigation
Lee Campbell was one of the casualties of Flight 811. He was returning home to New Zealand when the accident happened. His parents Kevin and Susan Campbell started an independent investigation from the NTSB. The initial investigation placed the blame on Brian Kitaoka, who at that time worked as a Ramp Serviceman for United Airlines. However, Kevin and Susan Campbell were not satisfied with this cause, which is human error, and continued to pursue their investigation. It took a long time for them to finish the investigation because they could not find the door of the plane. Without that door, they will not be able to check it for electrical errors. They eventually found the door 18 months later, 5km on the ocean floor. The Campbell’s embarked on a relentless personal investigation. Kevin said you can’t let the death of Lee be for nothing. Two months after the crash when the NTSB held preliminary hearings, the Campbell’s made sure they were there. They soon get frustrated because the NTSB will not...
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