Close Call in the Pacific: Southwest 737 MAX Avoids Near-Disaster off Hawaii

In April 2024, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft experienced a terrifying near-miss incident off the coast of Hawaii. The plane came within 400 feet of slamming into the Pacific Ocean after weather conditions forced pilots to quickly change course and abort a landing attempt at Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai. According to reports, the aircraft dropped from nearly 16,000 feet to an altitude of just 409 feet above the ocean in a matter of seconds. The Boeing 737 Max 8 jet briefly dropped at an abnormally high rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute before the flight crew managed to pull up and avoid disaster.


The incident occurred when the flight crew was forced to abort their landing due to bad weather conditions. In an internal memo sent to pilots, Southwest Airlines explained that despite bad weather forecasts, the plane's captain put his "newer" first officer in control of the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane. When the first officer "inadvertently" pushed the steering yoke forward before reducing the plane's speed, it caused the plane to plummet from an altitude of 1,000 feet down to just 400 feet above the ocean.

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When warning alarms started going off in the cockpit, the captain commanded the first officer to accelerate, causing the plane to "aggressively" climb back up into the sky at a rate of 8,500 feet a minute. The incident was not initially reported publicly, but it came to light following a Bloomberg report on the internal memo sent to Southwest pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now investigating the incident, along with another issue involving a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max aircraft that experienced a so-called Dutch roll during a flight in May. The FAA has confirmed that it is working with Boeing and the National Transportation Safety Board to investigate the incident.

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The incident highlights the ongoing safety concerns surrounding the Boeing 737 Max aircraft, which was grounded worldwide in 2019 following two fatal crashes that killed a total of 346 people. The aircraft was cleared to return to service in late 2020, but it has faced scrutiny and additional safety checks since then. Southwest Airlines has not commented on the incident, but the airline has reportedly participated in a comprehensive investigation and review of its procedures, training, standards, and performance in response to the near-miss incident. The investigation is ongoing, and the FAA has not yet determined the cause of the incident.

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