HONOLULU, MAY 17 -- The blast knocked her shoes off. She fell onto her back and in the roaring wind she clutched the metal bars under the seats until a hand reached down and held her to the floor.
That much of Aloha Airlines Flight 243 Michelle Honda remembers clearly.
The next 13 minutes raced by in a blur.
Honda was one of three flight attendants working when the cabin gave way, and she was left alone to calm 89 terrified passengers.
"I remember being on the floor," she said, "crawling up the aisle rung by rung, telling people to put on life vests. I remember looking up at people on my back and calling up and helping them take out the vests.
"One mother asked me to help her son. He was across the aisle in a B seat. He was scared, but he didn't say anything. You could see it in his face. His eyes were searching. I think everybody had that look: What's next?"
What happened to the jet reads like a Hollywood disaster movie plot. Nearly a third of the jet's roof peeled away when the aging Boeing 737's metal body ruptured, and the passengers were exposed to open sky and high winds 24,000 feet over the Pacific.
Clarabelle (C.B.) Lansing, the senior flight attendant, vanished with the aluminum roof.
Jane Sato-Tomita, the other flight attendant, was struck on the head and lay bleeding and unconscious on the floor.
"The first time I saw her I thought she was dead," Honda said. "She was just on the borderline of the hole. Her head was split open in the back. She was under debris."
In the cockpit, the pilots, Robert Schornstheimer and Madeline (Mimi) Tomkins tried to restart a stalled engine. They tried to keep the plane steady, but it yawed.
As the pilots brought the jet down quickly from the high altitude, Honda inched back and forth in the aisle and kept panic from overtaking the passengers.
"I had no sense of rows, only seats. I was crawling and dragging. That's how I knew the little boy was in a B seat because I had to look over one man to reach him," Honda said. "I know I was on my back some of the time because of the perspective of looking up into their faces. I don't know when I stood up or when I crawled."
She was scared.
From the start, Flight 243 couldn't have been more routine. The Hilo-to-Honolulu run usually carried a lot of local islanders -- Lansing knew them all -- and this trip was no different.
This was always the last flight of the day for the crew, and right after the drinks were served Honda usually took a little break. Sometimes she went to the galley to eat lunch.
But Lansing, a 37-year veteran of the airline, was on board. So this time Honda went to her seat in the rear.
"C.B. was a pretty by-the-book person," Honda said. "Because she adhered to the rules and regulations, I think it saved my life. We weren't congregating. I was in my position. Jane was in hers."
From her seat, Honda spotted Lansing in a mirror that flight attendants use to watch the cabin. She was at the head of the aisle collecting empty glasses.
"I thought to myself, 'Oh God,' and took out my little purple plastic bag," Honda said. "I didn't look up. The guilt was there because I had been sitting down and I went down the aisle and turned around to face aft so I wouldn't have to meet her eyes."
The blast hit Honda on the left shoulder. It felt like a strong push. There were screams, then silence. Honda was on the floor.
The 35-year-old native Hawaiian had been flying for Aloha for 14 years, and her training told her that the jet was experiencing a rapid cabin decompression. Her instincts told her it wasn't caused by a bomb.
"My first concern was keeping my breathing shallow because I couldn't get to an oxygen mask," she said. "You can pass out. I didn't want to get to that point." The passengers were showered with debris.
"There was a smoke-like vapor in all the debris flying around," she said. "Paper, fiberglass, asbestos. It was kind of white. That's why I say blizzard, although it wasn't cold." Honda could barely move against the wind. "The passengers were reaching out and holding me as I went by and I grabbed their arms," she said. "The closer you came to the hole, the more intense the wind was. I didn't know if I would have stayed in the aircraft if I let go, and I wasn't about to find out."
All the passengers were wearing their seatbelts. Only Sato-Tomita was not strapped in. "My central thought was to get Jane to the back of the aircraft." Honda said. "I tried to move her and drag her back, but I couldn't get her. I didn't realize she was unconscious . . . "
A few oxygen masks popped out, but didn't work. Two huge ceiling panels landed on the heads of passengers, and Honda heaved them into the empty rows of seats in the back.
"I would take things to move them and then they were gone," she said. "I never saw them again."
The floor was buckled, obscuring the view of the cockpit. A passenger in a window seat asked if the cockpit was still there. Until that moment, Honda was mentally working through her emergency checklist and moving about almost by rote. She hadn't even thought about the pilots.
"I guess it is so ingrained that we take off and we land and our cockpit is there that I didn't even think, 'Are they flying this?' I assumed they were there because we were making turns," she said.
She crawled to the rear and tried to call the pilots on the radio. The line was dead. She went back to the aisle and, for reasons she does not understand, asked a man if he knew how to fly.
"When they had time to start asking questions, I felt there was a potential for hysteria," Honda said. "The man in the 'F seat,' he was starting to look apprehensive after my not being able to talk to the cockpit."
Then Maui loomed dead ahead.
"I thought at first we were going to go straight into the head of Maui," Honda said. "This is when I saw the plane veering toward the right and I knew we were going to make a landing on Maui."
Honda had found her shoes in the aisle. But her stockings were in shreds and her skirt and blouse were covered with blood. She kept her eyes almost closed to tiny slits. Debris pushed into her throat every time she yelled a command. And finally when she yelled, 'Heads down!' no sound came out.
"I thought to myself later, 'Voice commands? Yeah, right,' " she said.
As the jet glided over the end of the runway to touch down gently on Maui, Honda crawled back up the aisle and lay next to her unconscious colleague, Sato-Tomita, on the floor. "I grabbed her belt and her waist and held on to the metal retainer bars," Honda said.
In an instant, she was yelling, "We made it! We made it!" Sato-Tomita was up and the two ran toward the back to open the rear door. An off-duty flight attendant, Amy Jones-Brown, struggled free from her seat and helped Honda evacuate the plane as Sato-Tomita, disoriented and bleeding, was taken to the hospital. Not until the plane was emptied did Honda learned Lansing was gone.
The scene on the ground was in many ways more painful, Honda said. The passengers near the hole had been battered and cut by flying debris. The 84-year-old woman who sat so quietly in the front of the coach section when the flight began had serious head wounds.
Most of the rest of Honda's recollections are fragments of scenes that have become more vivid, she says, with the passing of time. The wind, for example. It had a howling sound.
"Thunderous, like a storm," she said. "Like a bad storm. Like the movies, when they had bad storms in those old black-and-white horror movies."
In the 2 1/2 weeks since the accident, the recollections have also become more painful. The mental image of the man with the strip of fuselage stapled to his face causes tears to well in her eyes.
"He said, 'Could you take this off?' I was trying to pull it away. But I realized the staples had stapled into the side of his face and his face was being pulled by the staples. I told him I couldn't help him. At that point, I figured from my first aid training to leave that kind of stuff in," she said.
Even more troubling are the gaps in her memory, the unexplained movements such as the appearance and equally sudden disappearance of a life raft in the aisle. So is the position of Lansing inside the plane at the time of the blast.
"Nobody saw her leave," said Honda, her voice almost a whisper. The only couple seated in the first-class section has studied a photograph of Lansing and said she was not the one serving them a drink when the roof of the plane blew off.
That would put Sato-Tomita up front, Honda figures. But then, how did she get back to the floor of the coach cabin? And why were her feet tangled in the cables that came from the part of the ceiling that blew away?
Honda says that one of her greatest fears was that she would panic in an emergency.
She remained so calm, in fact, that afterward when she telephoned home, she was able to convincingly play down the magnitude of the emergency to her 11-year-old daughter.
"I told her, 'Mommy's got a mechanical and I'm not going to be home for a while,' " she said.
The debriefings are over now. The FBI agents and the federal accident investigators have come and gone. She has twice gone to the hospital to visit passengers.
Now come the requests for interviews, the television news programs, the newspapers. And with them comes the inevitable final question.
It is the fear-of-flying question. No, she has not gone back to work yet. Yes, she has flown. Four hours after the accident, she and the pilots took an Aloha 737 back to Honolulu.
"I felt it couldn't happen again," she said. "My number had been pulled and it couldn't be pulled again."