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Passengers Faint After Piedmont Jet Engine Explodes

April 15, 1988

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Passengers fainted and some oxygen masks didn’t work after a Piedmont jetliner engine exploded at 31,000 feet, its turbine blades puncturing the pressurized cabin, authorities said.

The twin-engine Fokker F-28, carrying 56 passengers and a crew of four, made an emergency landing at 10 a.m. Thursday at Charleston’s Yeager Airport. Two flight attendants were treated for minor injuries.

The explosion shot engine debris through the rear of the cabin, ripping a 6-foot gash in the plane’s right side and a 2-foot hole in the left side, narrowly missing the other engine.

″It began with a wearing noise and loud vibrations about five or 10 times straight, and then there was an explosion in the back of us,″ passenger Rafael Gonzalez of Charlotte, N.C. said.

A National Transportation Safety Board investigator returned to Washington today after inspecting the plane Thursday afternoon and evening. Piedmont crews dispatched to Charleston were given control of the plane today.

Gonzalez, who was sitting three rows from the rear of the plane when the cabin depressurized, said a woman traveling with two children passed out in the seat behind him.

″She fainted. I turned around and she was blue. The baby was blue. And her 3-year-old was blue,″ Gonzalez said. ″I grabbed her and put a mask on her, gave the baby to a woman who was sitting next to her and I took the 3-year-old up with me.″

Flight 486 was en route from Charlotte, N.C., to Columbus, Ohio, when the right jet turbine exploded about 9:45 a.m., Piedmont officials said.

″It blew a big hole in the plane,″ passenger Fred Hinton of Raleigh, N.C., said. ″I’m 240 pounds, and it was big enough that I could crawl through it. One of the turbine blades came right through the bathroom. We’re lucky no one was in it.″

The plane lost cabin pressure and went into a dive. Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling and flight attendants and adult passengers went through the aisles and assisted children, passengers said.

But some didn’t work and passengers moved to other seats. After the plane landed safely, several passengers later complained of headaches, earaches and elevated blood pressure.

″This could have easily been more serious than it was,″ said Dan Huffman, assistant airport manager.

Most passengers were placed on a connecting flight, but a handful rented cars and said they would continue the trip by ground.

Piedmont spokesman Don McGuire said he didn’t know when the plane’s engines had been checked last. The engine was manufactured by Rolls Royce.

Computers are used to maintain parts aboard the plane, including engines and oxygen masks, he said. The reported failures of the oxygen masks will be investigated, he said.

Piedmont owns 25 Fokker F-28 4000 Series aircraft, which seat a maximum of 72 passengers. It also owns 20 1000 Series craft, which carry 62. It was the first serious problem reported with the Dutch-made F-28s in the four years Piedmont has owned them, McGuire said.

The NTSB’s Office of Safety Programs has on file only two injury-related accidents involving Fokker F-28s, spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said. One jet was involved in a minor taxiway collision at LaGuardia Airport in New York on Oct. 24, 1985, and on Dec. 30, 1986, an unassisted handicapped passenger fell off the boarding stairs when a guardrail gave way, he said.

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