Two Boeing 747-400s, one flying for Qantas, and the other for Delta Airlines, have experienced recent trans Pacific diversions.
The Qantas flight, QF18 from Buenos Aires to Sydney, made a planned detour to Papeete in Tahiti well north of its normal sub Antarctic flight path to avoid the risk posed by clouds of volcanic ash that are continuing to circulate in the more southerly latitudes following the eruptions at Mt Puyehue in Chile that began on June 4.
But the Delta flight’s unexpected arrival at the Midway Atoll in the northern Pacific (Friday our time) was the result of a sudden and very serious windscreen crack that appeared before the pilots while it was flying between Honolulu and Osaka.
That flight, carrying 380 people, dived to lower altitudes from 36,000 feet to minimise the risk of the windshield breaking apart and then flew for almost an hour to land on the short 2410 metre (7,900 feet) Henderson Field strip on Sand Island, which memorialises Major Lofton Henderson, one of the heroes of the crucial Battle of Midway, between June 4-7, 1942.
On approach the jet struck two of the estimated one million or so Laysan albatrosses that inhabit the Midway Wildlife Refuge, damaging a wing flag. The strip is a designated emergency runway for twin-engine airliners flying the north Pacific routes.
A detailed account of the incident posted by KITV in Honolulu says that a carpenter built wooden extensions to a set of airport stairways to allow passengers to leave the jet and eventually transfer to a replacement Delta 747 on which they completed their flight to Japan after a delay of more than 15 hours.
It was dark during most of the time the passengers were stranded on the atoll, but refuge rangers provided them with an information brochure and map and guidance on how to properly observe the wildlife while they stretched their legs.
The somewhat forgotten Battle of Midway was the most decisive naval engagement in the Pacific in World War II, in that it inflicted losses on Japan’s imperial navy from which it could not recover.