Investigation

Documentary series ‘Mayday’ investigates recent high-profile air, train and sea disasters to uncover how and why they happened.

Monday 20 November, 8.30pm, TV One

These expertly crafted dramatic reenactments are based on recovered cockpit voice recordings, radio transmission transcripts, and investigative reports. News footage, interviews with key witnesses, and computer graphics all shed light on the safety issues at the heart of transportation industry controversies.

Each episode of Mayday provides an in-depth look at one particular aspect of safety: the timing of safety checks, how to survive a missile strike, and what happens when dubious information is programmed into a sophisticated nautical weapons system.

Episode one focuses on Aloha Airlines Flight 243 as it takes off from Maui for a short island hop to Honolulu. The Boeing 737 takes off under clear and sunny conditions, but when the plane reaches its cruising altitude of 24,000 feet, the pilots hear a loud bang. What has happened is incredible, a huge chunk of the plane’s roof and walls is missing, right down to the passengers’ feet. They are flying in a convertible!

Luckily for the ninety-five passengers aboard, their seat belts are still fastened. But one of the flight attendants isn’t so fortunate, she is sucked out of the plane. Her body is never found. Donning their oxygen masks, the pilots struggle to control a plane that is suddenly in danger of breaking in two.

In the cockpit, the noise of the wind makes it necessary for the crew to communicate with hand signals. They know they have to get the plane down to a safe altitude quickly or the passengers will begin to suffer from oxygen starvation, and ultimately die. However, they don’t know if the seriously damaged plane’s landing gear is operational. One of the warning lights has not come on. The flight crew has no choice, but to risk it. Miraculously, the plane lands safely and all survive.

For once, the cause of the accident is immediately apparent. The plane had been so poorly maintained, and had been worked so hard, that the body panels had become unstuck. One of the passengers had even spotted a large crack in the hull as she boarded the plane, but had been too nervous to mention it! But what caused the fuselage to suddenly give way? A startling theory links it to the tragic disappearance of the flight attendant.