The co-pilot of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 remained remarkably calm, radioing the Maui airport tower to prepare medical assistance for passengers, even though she believed her crippled plane would have to land without its front landing gear, an in-flight tape recording disclosed Wednesday.
The Federal Aviation Administration released the tape at its Hawthorne office, on the same day that first officer Madeline (Mimi) Tompkins and pilot Robert Schornstheimer were honored in Washington for their bravery April 28 in landing the airliner.
Tompkins' voice was unwavering during the 10 minutes that she spoke with the tower at Maui's Kahului Airport, where Schornstheimer safely landed the Boeing 737 that had lost an 18-foot section of its upper cabin in mid-flight. One flight attendant was swept from the plane to her death.
Just two minutes before touchdown, Tompkins reported: "Be advised that we have no nose gear. We are landing without the nose gear."
An air traffic controller responded: "OK. If you need assistance, keep me advised."
Tompkins replied: "We'll need all the (emergency) equipment you've got."
A control-panel light had signaled incorrectly that the landing gear was not working.
It was not until 30 seconds before the successful landing that the controller in the tower apparently saw the plane's front wheel lowered and advised: " . . . The gear appears down. The gear appears down."
Tompkins, a nine-year Aloha veteran, and Schornstheimer, who has flown with the airline for 11 years, were presented with the Superior Airmanship Award Wednesday in Washington by the Air Line Pilots Assn.
It was 3:48 p.m. on a flight from Hilo to Honolulu when Tompkins first radioed that the plane was in trouble. "We have rapid decompression," she said evenly. "We are unpressurized, declaring an emergency."
Tompkins had to repeat her flight number several times before the air traffic controller at Kahului understood.
After confirming the plane's identification, the air traffic controller turned to other flights, allowing two to take off. He briefly lost radio communication and asked: "Aloha 243, you still up (on the radio frequency)?"
The flight crew responded by turning on its transponder, a device that transmits a regular radar signal.
Tompkins then said: "We're going to need assistance. We cannot communicate with the flight attendants. Will (there) be assistance for the passengers when we land?"
The controller asked Tompkins how many passengers were injured, but she said she had "no idea" because she could not speak to flight attendants, who were not strapped into their seats.