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Man honored for determining cause of airplane mishap that killed son

December 31, 1996

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) _ New Zealand on Tuesday honored a retired engineer who proved that a faulty cargo-door lock caused his son and eight others to be sucked out of a flight over the Pacific Ocean.

The government announced that Kevin Campbell has been made a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to aircraft safety, almost seven years after the tragedy.

The award was included in a list of national honors announced to mark the new year.

Campbell theorized that a faulty electrical locking system partially unlocked a cargo door, allowing it to blow out of United Airlines flight 811 from Hawaii to Auckland in February 1989.

The force of the cabin depressurization ripped away part of the plane’s upper fuselage at 30,000 feet, sucking out nine passengers, including Campbell’s 28-year-old son, Lee.

The Boeing 747 jetliner returned safely to Hawaii with its remaining passengers and crew.

After persistent lobbying by Campbell, United Airlines and the Boeing aircraft company paid for the U.S. Navy’s recovery of the cargo door from the ocean floor, 100 miles southwest of Honolulu. Inspection of the door proved his theory.

Campbell reached undisclosed cash settlements with both United Airlines and Boeing and then went on to develop a system to prevent aircraft doors from opening in midflight.

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