Hawai'i State News

Southwest flight bound for Līhuʻe plummets to within 400 feet of ocean surface off Kaua‘i

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A Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet operated by Southwest Airlines in April plummetted from about 1,000 feet at an alarmingly abnormal more than 4,000 feet per minute off the coast of Kaua‘i near Līhuʻe Airport, coming within just 400 feet and a matter of only seconds from crashing into the ocean before its crew pulled the aircraft up, climbing rapidly, to avoid the almost disaster.

A Southwest Airlines aircraft in mid flight. One of the airline’s flights from Honolulu to Līhuʻe was involved in an April mishap that resulted in the plane to come within 400 feet of crashing into the ocean off Kaua‘i, in mid flight. (File photo)

The Federal Aviation Administration, after inquiries from Bloomberg News, is investigating the mishap that previously was unreported. It happened after adverse weather conditions forced pilots to abort landing at the Kaua‘i airport because pilots couldn’t see the runway.

The news outlet said in a June 14 story that Southwest sent a memo to pilots last week, which was seen by Bloomberg, reviewing the narrowly averted ocean crash.

The plane returned safely to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, from where it departed.


No one was injured.

“Nothing is more important to Southwest than safety,” said a statement Southwest emailed to Bloomberg after its inquiries about the Flight 2786 mishap. “Through our robust Safety Management System, the event was addressed appropriately as we always strive for continuous improvement.”

Flight instructor and former commercial airline pilot Kit Darby reviewed data from flight tracking website ADS-B Exchange and told Bloomberg that the jet’s pilot was “pitching up and pitching down with the power and close to out of control — very close. It would feel like a roller coaster ride.”


According to Southwest’s memo, the plane’s captain had put a less experienced first officer in command of the short flight to Līhuʻe.

While following movement of the thrust lever caused by the jet’s automatic throttle, the co-pilot “inadvertently” pushed forward on the control column. The first officer then decreased the plane’s speed, causing it to descend.

A warning system began blaring shortly after, alerting the pilots that the aircraft was getting too close to the surface. That triggered an order from the captain to hike thrust, after which the plane climbed at an aggressive 8,500 feet per minute.


Landing flights usually descend at 1,500 to 2,000 feet a minute early in their approach, Darby said, slowing to 800 feet a minute when they’re about 5 miles away from an airport.

Southwest determined proper pilot monitoring and better communication between crew members is critical. The company commited to reviewing industry and internal training protocols and procedures.

A spokesman told Bloomberg that the National Transportation Safety Board isn’t aware of the almost disaster. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association did not comment.

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