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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Alaska Flight #536 - Rapid De-Pressurization & Panic at 30,000 feet

Jeremey Hermanns was on Alaska Airline's Flight #536 on Monday, December 26th, which suffered a rapid de-pressurization and passanger panic at 30,000 feet. Mr. Hermanns kept his cool, put his mask on, and managed to snap some pictures with his Treo. He says:

Nothing can describe the helpless feeling you go through during a time like this, when you are absent any control, you cannot breathe, and everyone around is stunned into fear. It all started with a loud bang - the cabin air began to swirl and the engine sound became deafening. As a GA-VFR pilot, I knew something was terribly wrong. As the smell of acrid AV-gas/JP4 and burning plastic filled the cabin, it created more fear in the eyes of the holiday passengers around me. We were all gripped in silence, surrounded by the white noise from the engines that eerily engulfed the plane into a surreal atmosphere. And as the oxygen masks deployed from the ceiling in a familiar, video-esque manner, we all grasped them in fear - trying to figure out how to breathe through the flimsy pieces of plastic. Parents were the most confused – as the masks were too large for their babies’ faces and were not easy to put on in such a panicked situation. The next few minutes passed like seconds – the plane started diving down to a lower level … and fast.

Afterwards some Alaskian Airline employees apparently did not like Mr. Hermann's report and made some disparaging comments.

The depressurization was due to an "out-sourced" ramp worker damaging the aircraft's fuselage. Seattle's King5-TV reported:
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board believe the gap tore open in flight after the side of the jet was hit just before takeoff by a piece of baggage loading equipment, causing the Alaska Airlines MD-80 to depressurize in mid-air Monday.

The Menzies Aviation worker who hit the plane failed to report it because he didn’t think it serious enough. But a crease in the fuselage that the accident caused blew up into a hole when the aircraft reached 26,000 feet.

Alaska fired its own ramp workers last spring and replaced them with workers from London-based Menzies.

The ramp worker, fearing he'd get fired for the mistake, never told anybody what had happened. He has been suspended, and other Menzies workers are now receiving safety training....

The failure by the Menzies Aviation employee to report the problem is troubling to other aviation experts.

Menzies Avaiation is a British company that Alaska contracts with to provide baggage handling and other ramp services at Sea-Tac.

"Common sense would have dictated that if you run a vehicle into an airplane you should at least bring it to the attention of the crew and the maintenance staff so they can pass their professional judgment on it," said Dr. Todd Curtis with Airsafe.com.

Alaska Flight #536 - Rapid De-Pressurization and Panic at 30K Feet[JeremyHermanns.org]
Alaska Airlines comments on my story [JeremyHermanns.org]
"Absolutely terrifying" flight after ground-crew mistake [Seattle Times, Dec. 28, 2005]
Alaska Airlines accident blamed on cost cuts [king5.com, Dec. 29, 2005]