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Passengers Say Calm Prevailed as Disabled Plane Landed With AM-Forced Landing

December 27, 1988

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Passengers on a plane that was forced to land when the fuselage tore open at 31,000 feet Monday said that although the experience was frightening, there wasn’t mass panic.

″The crew was marvelous,″ said Lucille Lobene, 63, a passenger from North Miami Beach, Fla. ″There was no screaming, no hysteria.″

″The passengers were absolutely superb,″ added the plane’s co-pilot, Garland Jones, 40, who is based in New York.

Eastern Airlines flight 251, a Boeing 727 en route to Atlanta from Rochester, N.Y., made an emergency landing at Yeager Airport after a crack toward the rear of the plane began opening, officials said. Two minor injuries were reported.

The jet, carrying 104 passengers and six crew members, lost cabin pressure but experienced no other sudden trouble, said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Jack Barker, in Atlanta. The opening in the fuselage was ″about a 14-inch square hole,″ Barker said.

″When you felt cold air right away you knew the outside was coming in,″ said Elaine Davie, 40, a passenger from Rochester, N.Y.

Davie said none of her childrens’ oxygen masks worked, and her 5-year-old daughter Christina began screaming.

″She was just too young to understand what was going on and we couldn’t get to her right away,″ she said.

Jones said he suspects the masks didn’t work because passengers didn’t pull them all the way down. The oxygen flow is triggered by the pulling action, he said.

Another passenger, David Moore, 39, of Phoenix, Ariz., said he was concerned about an unusual noise before takeoff.

″There was a definite wind noise, not from the back of the plane but from above our heads,″ said Moore. ″The (second officer) came back, looked at it and decided it wasn’t anything.″

But Jones disputed Moore’s account and said the second officer went to the rear of the plane to help flight attendants close the aft door prior to takeoff.

When the hole broke open, ″I looked up, and I could see sunlight shining through,″ Moore said.

Passenger Sam Piazza, 55, a former pilot of Boca Raton, Fla., said he and his wife at first thought a bomb had exploded. ″We were cruising along and you could hear the rush of the wind and the pitch of the wind and all of a sudden you could hear a big pop,″ he said.

Piazza said the noise from the wind obscured the crews’ attempts to talk to passengers over the flight intercom.

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