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Passenger: Others Inches Away Were Gone With PM-Plane Emergency

February 24, 1989

HONOLULU (AP) _ Moments after a huge hole ripped open in the fuselage of a United Airlines 747 jet today, one of the 336 passengers said he looked up and others who had been seated just 18 inches away were gone.

″All of a sudden it was like a dream - a section of the plane wasn’t there any longer,″ Gary Garber told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the emergency room of a Honolulu hospital.

″We heard a hissing noise and then noise from the explosion, if you want to call it that. Then we put our heads down. A moment later, we put our heads up and I could see where the seats used to be and the people weren’t there,″ said Garber, of Tarzana, Calif.

As many as 11 people were apparently sucked from the plane and at least 11 others were taken to hospitals for treatment, authorities said. It was not immediately known what caused the hole to blow open.

The plane left Honolulu International Airport with 336 passengers and 18 crew members at 1:53 a.m. for Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia. It returned 40 minutes later with a 10-by-40 foot vertical hole in the forward baggage area on the right side of the airliner.

Some of Garber’s fingers were broken. His wife was uninjured. He said they were seated in the business class section of the plane.

″The aisle seats right adjacent to us are what got hit. We were about 18 inches from flying out the plane ourselves,″ Garber said.

Koji Yamamoto, 23, of Osaka, Japan, said he saw the sky and could ″feel the wind. The roof was breaking. Something was blowing toward us.″

Yamamoto was traveling with three friends and was seated in the middle of the plane behind the explosion area. He said he put his head between his knees after the explosion and was unaware anybody was hurt.

″It was frightening but I’m OK,″ he said.

Beverley Nisbet, 50, of Hastings, New Zealand, was returning home from a trip to Britain and Hawaii.

″The hostesses had announced they would be bringing drinks around, and at that moment, I heard a muffled explosion and the wall blew away,″ she said. ″Debris was everywhere. My initial reaction was ’This was it. I’m not going home.‴

″I thought it might be a bomb and I was waiting for a second one to finish us off,″ she said.

She said everyone put on their lifejackets. One girl became hysterical, but the passengers were ″remarkably calm,″ Nisbet said.

Nisbet said she was on the aisle in row 18, and was far enough away from the impact not to be in danger of being sucked out.

Passenger Bruce Lampert of Denver said, ″There was explosive decompression. The masks came down. There was a lot of debris flowing through the cabin.

″I heard a large rushing of noise. The plane made a rapid descent. I can tell you that was a long flight back,″ he said.

When passengers saw land ″there was a roar of applause,″ he said.

″The passengers were wonderful; the crew as professional. There was an awful lot of scared people, obviously,″ Lampert said.

He said he saw one woman with a severe neck cut, bleeding all over her blouse.

At Honolulu International Airport, United Airlines took a head count among the passengers who were quickly moved off the plane after it made a safe landing.

The passengers were told to remain in the area at the terminal’s gates 9 and 10, and were told not to leave.

Many of the passengers were lying on the floor, with blankets and pillows provided by United. One passenger was still wearing his life jacket.

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