John Puu got the text from his wife, Linda, just as he arrived Thursday morning at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport to pick her up from her Hawaiian Airlines flight from Oakland: “Cabin with smoke say a prayer.”
Puu began praying.
A few minutes later his prayers were answered as the smoke-filled plane landed in Honolulu safely with Linda Puu and 183 other passengers and seven crew members evacuating from emergency slides.
First responders met Hawaiian Airlines Flight 47 on the runway and transported five adults and two children with minor smoke inhalation symptoms to area hospitals, official said.
No smoke or fire was visible from the outside of the Airbus A321neo when it landed, state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said.
Hawaiian said in a statement Thursday night it was determined that “a seal failed in the aircraft’s left engine, causing oil to leak onto hot parts of the plane’s engine and air conditioning pressurization system, resulting in smoke in the cabin.” The airline said performance of the engine was not affected.
Jon Snook, Hawaiian Airlines chief operating officer, said the flight landed at 11:36 a.m. shortly after declaring an in-flight emergency due to smoke in the cargo hold and cabin.
“Smoke was still prevalent on arrival, prompting the evacuation,” Snook said.
Smoke started filling the plane some 20 minutes prior to arrival as the aircraft was north of Molokai and beginning its descent toward Honolulu.
“No one really knew where it was coming from,” Linda Puu said. “We were on our final descent, and our seat belts were on. The stewardess was very calm. She just said we’re trying to figure out where it’s coming from, and then we got into the emergency landing position.”
The smoke, which smelled like plastic, made it hard to breathe, the Hawaii Kai woman said, but flight attendants were passing out wet paper towels.
“We were all scared,” she said. “I was praying. That’s what I was doing. I was praying. I was glad, though, we were able to land and we didn’t have to do a water landing.”
There was little to no panic among the passengers, she said.
Regarding going down the emergency slide: “You never think you’re going to do it. Honest to God, you never think you’re going to do it. But I was just more worried about the older people on the flight and so many babies. There were so many babies but they all got off.”
Glenn Mitchell, airport fire chief, said all seven airport firetrucks responded to the emergency on Runway 4-R.
After the plane was evacuated, fire crews found very little smoke in the cabin or in the cargo hold, he said.
Mitchell praised the airline crew for helping to make the evacuation quick and orderly. All passengers were off the plane in 30 to 45 seconds, he said, and only a few complained of bumps and bruises from the slides.
“It was the best result we could have asked for,” he said.
The passengers were transported by bus to a staging area in the terminal, where airline employees were “checking on their needs,” Snook said.
Snook said passengers were given a full refund on their round-trip tickets and a voucher for future travel as well.
“We sincerely apologize to our passengers for this incident and thank them for their cooperation in the evacuation,” the airline said in a statement.
“There was no fire found, but the crew did exactly the right thing under the circumstances and with the information presented to them at the time,” Snook said.
The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to investigate.
The Airbus is a relatively new one, delivered this year, and with no history of problems.
The runway was shut down for a couple of hours, and only one other flight was delayed, officials said.
Puu finally hugged her husband about three hours after she landed. He was waiting for her in the baggage claim area.
While still shaken, she had nothing but praise for the way she was treated by the airline.
“The crew, the pilot, everybody at Hawaiian has been absolutely marvelous,” she said.
She added that when it was announced they were getting a refund and a voucher, everybody clapped.
Star-Advertiser reporter Nina Wu contributed to this story.