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Pilot of damaged plane saw 'daylight and the sky'

HONOLULU -- The veteran pilot of the Aloha Airlines jet crippled by a gaping hole torn in the fuselage nearly 5 miles above the ocean didn't have time 'to think about fear' as he guided the damaged plane safely to solid ground.

Pilot Robert A. Schornstheimer landed the Boeing 737 after a huge chunk of its roof flew off at 24,000 feet over the Pacific Ocean between two of the Hawaiian Islands Thursday in a bizarre mishap that injured 61 passengers and apparently sucked a flight attendant out of the cabin to her death.

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'When we talked it was about four hours after the accident, and he was talking quite calmly about it,' said the pilot's father, Robert E. Schornstheimer. 'He said probably reaction would set in (later).'

A large, semi-circular fuselage section was ripped off the top of the cabin just behind the cockpit of the Boeing 737 by what passengers described as an explosion on the flight from Hilo on Hawaii island to Honolulu on Oahu. The plane, which had been carrying 95 people, landed safely on the island of Maui.

Federal experts Friday probed why the huge roof section of the jet tore away. An initial investigation turned up no evidence of a bomb, although nothing had been ruled out, a Federal Aviation Administration official said.

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In a telephone interview from his home in Marietta, Ohio, the elder Schornstheimer said his son told of hearing a noise in back of him and feeling a big drag on the plane.

'It was open, and I believe he said he could look out and see daylight and the sky,' he said. 'They put oxygen masks on right away and called Maui airport.'

The plane was difficult to control, and the younger Schornstheimer remembered hoping it didn't collapse on landing as well as in the air.

'He said he really didn't have time to think about fear,' the father said. 'It was a question of control, of getting it in and getting it on the ground.

'When he started to land, he put the air flaps down to slow the speed up. It started to shake a bit, so put them off, so the landing was faster than normal but itwas apparently a very smooth one.'

The elder Schornstheimer said he happened to be watching television and saw a news item about a plane exploding over Hawaii and making an emergency landing on Maui.

On another news program 30 minutes later, the name of the airline was mentioned, 'so I knew there was one chance in 40 he might be on that.' He called his son's wife, who confirmed it was his son's plane.

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'When we saw the pictures later on television, we said 'Holy smoke, how did that thing ever hold together?'' he said.

The elder Schornstheimer said his son grew up in Marietta, went to public school, and graduated from Defiance College in Defiance, Ohio.

After that, he joined the Air Force and was in the service for seven years. He was hired as a pilot for Aloha 12 years ago.

Schornstheimer described his son as unflappable in an emergency and something of a perfectionist. 'If he was going to be a pilot, he was going to be a good one; if he was going to windsurf, he was going to try to do it well.'

Schornstheimer said he was proud of his son, who has drawn high praise from all quarters for his skill in bringing the severely damaged aircraft down safely.

'He did a good job,' Schornstheimer said. 'Of course, he said 'Well, I didn't do anything more than a lot of our pilots would have done.' He was very skillful and had good training.'

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