Queen Liliuokalani was a 19-year-old Boeing 737-297 serving Hilo and Honolulu in Hawaii. On April 28, 1988, some twenty minutes after take off from Hilo, part of its roof ruptured at the altitude of 24,000 feet (7,300 m). The age of the plane, corroded fuselage and stressed rivets led to the entire fuselage being ripped off in what is known as a zipper effect.
At the time of the decompression, the plane’s chief flight attendant was collecting cups from passengers, and she was sucked through a hole in the side of the airplane. Other flight attendants and 65 (out of 90) passengers were injured, but she was the only fatality. The plane performed an emergency landing on Maui.
After the accident, the Congress passed the Aviation Safety Research Act of 1988, which pursued research into probable causes of future airplane disasters. (Their investigation also found that a passenger did notice a crack in the fuselage upon boarding but did not tell anyone.) Two years later, the FAA began the National Aging Aircraft Research Program in 1991, which tightened inspection and maintenance requirements for high-use and high-cycle aircraft. The Discovery Channel called the flight one of the Moments That Changed Flying; indeed, since this accident, there has been only one American fatigue-related jet accident.
Photo by Robert Nichols/Black Star