FAA Investigates After Southwest MAX Dives To 400 Feet Off Hawaii

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The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating an April incident involving a Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 that descended rapidly from 1,000 feet and came within about 400 feet of the ocean surface off the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Bloomberg was the first to report on the incident after obtaining an internal memo from Southwest to its pilots last week. According to the source, the event occurred April 11 during a go-around due to bad weather on a flight from Honolulu International Airport to Lihue Airport in Kauai. The memo revealed that despite inclement weather forecasts, the captain elected to let the “newer” first officer fly the short leg to Lihue. According to the memo, during the go-around, the first officer “inadvertently” pushed forward on the control column, causing the aircraft to rapidly descend at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute. The aircraft came within 400 feet of the ocean before the crew pulled up. During the recovery, the aircraft climbed at 8,500 feet per minute.

Southwest’s memo stressed the importance of better communication between crew and committed to reviewing industry and internal data to determine whether updates to protocols and training would be necessary.

The airline released a statement stressing that the event was addressed appropriately with the pilots involved receiving additional training. According to the Bloomberg report, the incident previously went unreported, and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) was unaware of it.

Amelia Walsh
Amelia Walsh is a private pilot who enjoys flying her family’s Columbia 350. She is based in Colorado and loves all things outdoors including skiing, hiking, and camping.

28 COMMENTS

  1. And people complain 1500 minimum flight hours for ATP is too much. This kid could have used a few more.

    Aren’t they supposed to scare people on the regionals rather than the majors? :7)

    • Hours are a terrible measure. The 1500 hour requirement for FO came after the Colgan crash, where both pilots had multiple thousand hours and obviously not the cause or even a factor. Now, right seat has 1500 hours in a C150 and is no better airline pilot than he was at 250 hours. It’s just an artificial constraint on pilot supply.

    • There’s a difference between 1500 hours of experience and one hour of experience 1500 times. It’s the quality of the training that matters.

  2. Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 plunged within 400 feet of ocean near Hawaii.
    The US is investigating the April incident in which the jet dropped more than 4,000 feet per minute before the crew pulled up to avoid disaster. Bloomberg.

  3. Here we go again. The title “FAA Investigates After Southwest MAX Dives To 400 Feet Off Hawaii” is a bit ambiguous. While it heavily implies a vertical distance from the ground (most likely the ocean surface), it doesn’t explicitly state it.

    • It says in the article “The aircraft came within 400 feet of the ocean before the crew pulled up.” Please read the story before commenting. If you have a problem with comprehension read it again.

      • I understand “The aircraft came within 400 feet of the ocean before the crew pulled up” to mean that the aircraft was at an altitude of 400 feet when the crew started to pull up. It means that in reality the plane’s flight altitude was at its lowest 1-400 feet.

  4. seems reminiscent of the amazon Texas crash. Confused and possible scared co-pilot panics and pushes thinking there are near or in a stall in IMC, when all is fine.

    • “the FO inadvertently pushed forward on the control column while following the thrust lever movement commanded by the autothrottle”, red airspeed tape so FO throttles back causing descent, Captain commands climb and left turn, FO throttles up climbing 8500fpm peak, flap load relief goes to 10d from 15d due to ph2 flap overspeed at 238kt (flap10 max 210kt, ph2 max 225kt), FO unsuccessful attempt to connect AP, overshoots MA altitude by 700ft.

    • Not remotely the same. 67 was on arrival and the FO activated TOGA thrust while retracting the spoilers.
      FO had a track record of being “released” from companies with positive letters of reference – shame on all those training captains and chief pilots.

  5. Wrong control inputs due to go-arounds are an issue totally separate from aircraft type. So the fact that this happened on a Max is irrelevant. Overcontrolling a B737 in go-around is an issue that should be trained. Plus, ALL simulator sessions include at least one go-around so there might be an underlying issue here (crew-member specific).
    The discussion about log-book hours is subjective. There are major carriers that have much less that 1500h pilots in the RH seat operating perfectly safe – it’s all in hwo one spends his/her hours accompanied by proper training, supervision, coaching and not to forget the proper screening coming through the front door.
    Bringing up the Colgan crash – those pilots were not well rested to say the least before they started their duty. The way US regionals schedule their pilots and allow them to ‘rest’ in abominable conditions was long ago identified as a risk factor.

    • The FO was ill with a cold as well as fatigued and shy of experience. The Captain had a history of multiple redo check rides. The outcome in difficult weather was tragic.

  6. The Captain should have forcefully intervened long before the airplane arrived at 400 ft above the surface. There are times in flight training you’ll allow a student to dig himself deeper into a problem to see if he/she recovers correctly but a line flight with pax is not the appropriate time.

    • Mentoring… it’s not stated if these pilots had flown together, but as a captain I would not put a “newer” FO as PF on a 20 minute flight … just way too much going on in a short time span.

  7. Little is said about when this happened in “April” 2 1/2 months later, what? Make sure to put the Boeing label on it too to create a better story.

  8. This is why captain’s with years of experience should still mentor junior pilots even after the of age 65.

    • Fortunately those over 65 do mentor and teach as many come back as instructors. Unfortunately as we age our acuity and response times diminish. As well as general demeanor towards what we do and don’t adhere to over decades of FOM and procedure changes which lends itself to techniques over standards. Not to mention the increased likelihood of health issues that may detract from a younger more healthy version of the same person. I’m not sure we can assume a 67 year old flying multiple legs in a 737 during inclement weather would turn out to be the hero in this situation. In fact the odds are against such a scenario. Truth is a go around is one area where we could all use more training. It’s a threat that can occur more often than other threats that we train to mitigate. Perhaps we need to be training them more often as repetition is key, and/or briefing our go around procedure more often to have a shared mental model of the procedure. Perhaps that’s what was lacking in this scenario and was why both pilots went back for additional training.

    • Mentoring is one thing, but experienced captains should not have to teach an FO things that should have been learned at the private pilot level, or worse yet as a student pilot. Seems to be more of an issue these days, with the “quality” of student pilot training these days.

  9. They know exactly what happened. For years now these airliners have been sending flight data during and after flight, FOQA. Almost all parameters that go to the FDR are transmitted. There are no secrets anymore. Everything from control movements to engine parameters to speed, vertical speed, acceleration, system status and much more are known to not only Boeing but also the airline.

  10. FFSs have great fidelity, however, with their limitations. Due to movements on their pitch axis, simulators can’t truly simulate the total effects of Somatogravic illusions. This, illusion, was included by me, during sim and aircraft training, especially with new F/O’s coming from the EMB-110, for example. During the approach brief, the threat and mitigation techniques, needs to be included, with all pilots new to high performance aircraft with tons of thrust.

  11. All the comments regarding The “quality” of flight experience (I prefer that over time) are spot on. I have been a Chief Instructor at 141 schools and a Chief pilot and Director of Training in 135 ops. The quality of candidates is so variable both in terms of flight checking students and in the CFI’s who apply for positions. The biggest issue in my experience even 20 years ago was the time building CFI who just did the bare minimum with the student. All they cared about was getting the time to be able to punch their ticket. No actual IFR, as soon as they got their MEI competing for multi students to pad their logs. This 1500 hr. requirement means nothing, solves nothing.

  12. I don’t think a 1500 hr minimum is unreasonable, at least in contrast to the 2-300 hrs required by some foreign air carriers. It is impossible to accumulate 1500 one-hour identical flights. Each flight is a little different—different gross weights, density altitudes, winds, destinations, mechanical issues, etc. create what we call “experience”.

    Of course some experiences are more valuable than others. By the time I accumulated 1500 hrs 40 years ago, it was in single and multi engine recip aircraft, local and cross country, VFR and some IFR. By the time my son got his 1500 hrs, it was in single & multiengine, recips to Lear 35’s, conus and Alaska bush in Beech 99’s and C207’s. Obviously on the basis of experience, he was a much better candidate for the big leagues than I would have been, even though we both had 1500 hrs. He’s with a major now. One could say that 1500 hrs is (debatably) necessary, but certainly not sufficient, to command an airliner.

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