HONOLULU — A submarine has retrieved the top half of the cargo door that ripped away from a United Airlines jet last year, sweeping nine people to their deaths, a Navy spokeswoman said Tuesday.
The discovery ends a needle-in-a-haystack search of the Pacific Ocean floor. The three-man mini-sub and its support ship recovered the bottom half of the door last week.
The submarine located and recovered the top half Monday from 14,100 feet of water 90 miles south of Honolulu, lifting the wreckage to the surface with its hydraulic jaws, Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Sandy Stairs said. Stairs did not know how far the door's top half was found from the bottom half.
Officials said the door will be turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board, which wants to know why it tore away from United Flight 811 shortly after takeoff from Honolulu International Airport on Feb. 24, 1989.
The Boeing 747 carried 355 passengers and was bound for New Zealand. Shortly after takeoff, the cargo door opened at 22,000 feet, sweeping nine passengers from the plane. The crew managed to return the disabled jet to Honolulu.
After investigators examine the recovered debris, parts of it will be sent to the Boeing Co. in Seattle for a more detailed review under NTSB direction, safety board officials said.
A preliminary examination of the door's lower half showed that the door had fractured lengthwise near the midspan latch. The eight sectors of the latch lock were all in the locked position and were deformed.