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Mid-air break-up of Oceanic Flight 815, as seen from the Barracks in "A Tale of Two Cities"
See also: Flight 815 pieces

A mid-air break-up was suffered by Oceanic Flight 815 before the airplane crashed on the Island on September 22, 2004. This was presumably caused by a strong electromagnetic force built up inside the Swan station. The mid-air break-up of Flight 815 consisted of a series of distinct events, several of them with unusual features.


Sequence of mid-air break-up of Oceanic 815

The mid-air break-up of Flight 815 consisted of a sequence of distinct events.


Normal flight

On the island

On September 22, 2004, Desmond Hume was away from the Swan for more than 108 minutes, thereby failing to enter the Numbers in time. This resulted in a system failure, as the electromagnetic force building up inside the Swan was not discharged.("Live Together, Die Alone")

On the plane

Jack overlooks the plane's wing. ("Pilot, Part 1")

Only minutes before the catastrophe, flight was still normal. Oceanic 815 was at cruise altitude, straight-and-level, within a clear air mass. There was no turbulence. Jack looked out on the left wing, and exchanged small talk with the flight attendant.("Pilot, Part 1")

According to the pilot and flight attendant Cindy Chandler, Oceanic 815 had altered its flight path and was two hours into a diversion toward Fiji, but the mood in the passenger cabin was generally calm and normal.("Pilot, Part 1")("The Other 48 Days")

Turbulence began

On the island

As Desmond rushed back into the Swan, a pre-recorded system failure warning message was repeated, while the entire station was shaking, and dust was falling from the ceiling outside the concrete wall, suggesting that the Swan was under intense structural stress.("Live Together, Die Alone")

At the Barracks, Juliet Burke was holding a book club meeting, which was suddenly interrupted by an earthquake. The book club members sought shelter under doorways.("A Tale of Two Cities")

On the plane

A low, booming noise was heard. The left wing dipped low. The cabin was shaking. There was a sound of metallic rattling, not common during turbulence.("Pilot, Part 1")("Pilot, Part 2")

The pilot turned on the "fasten seatbelt" signs, and flight attendant Cindy Chandler called for everyone to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts.("Pilot, Part 1")("Pilot, Part 2")

Turbulence and groaning continued. Camera angle suggested descent.("Pilot, Part 1")("Pilot, Part 2")

Violent turbulence

On the island

Inside the Swan station, Desmond anxiously tried to enter the Numbers. Metal objects such as cans began to fly through the air toward the concrete wall, demonstrating that the magnetic field behind it was growing much stronger than normal.("Live Together, Die Alone")

At the Barracks, the shaking was so violent that dishes fell off of shelves, but there was no evidence of metal behaving abnormally.("A Tale of Two Cities")

On the plane

Charlie in lavatory, in Pilot, Part 2

Suddenly, Oceanic Flight 815 experienced violent turbulence. A rapid, sudden loss of altitude caused passengers who weren't wearing their seatbelts to strike the overhead.("Pilot, Part 1")("Pilot, Part 2")

Rapid descent

On the island

Inside the Swan station, Desmond finally successfully entered the Numbers. The countdown timer reset to 108. The System failure warning message stopped. Groaning noises stop.("Live Together, Die Alone")

At the Barracks, the earthquake stops. Juliet and her guests go outside. More of the Others, including Ben, Ethan and Goodwin also gather on the lawn in front of the houses. Looking towards the sky, they can suddenly hear the sound of a plane. Moments later, Oceanic Flight 815 descends into their view.("A Tale of Two Cities")

On the plane

The aircraft began a rapid descent. Breathing masks deployed. The passengers' heads were pulled back against the headrests. The view through Kate's window indicated that the aircraft was nose-down about 15 degrees. The aircraft was shaking. The engines were whining, the noise increasing in volume and pitch. Metallic groaning continued.("Pilot, Part 1")("Pilot, Part 2")

Partial recovery

As Oceanic Flight 815 came within sight of the Others, it appeared to have made a partial recovery. Flight appeared relatively straight-and-level. The aircraft was descending, right wing slightly low, roughly between 2,000ft and 5,000ft in altitude. It was trailing a cloud of black smoke from the right engine. Turbofan engine noise, as heard from the perspective of the Others, seemed basically normal.

However, a black band was already visible at the incipient point of separation of the tail section as the plane came into view.("A Tale of Two Cities")

Break-up began

Drawing of screenshot, flipped horizontally to represent the right side, showing the piece relative to aircraft and in the approximate position of forward cargo door.

Even though the magnetic force pulling the plane down had stopped, Oceanic 815 began to lose its structural integrity. A large, white rectangular object, roughly the size and shape of the forward cargo door, but perhaps larger, separated from the right side of the aircraft. Black smoke continued to trail from the right engine.

As the object appeared to reach the height of the tail, a second very narrow black band appeared at the future point of separation of the nose section.("A Tale of Two Cities")

Tail section separated; Explosion of right engine

As the plane continued to shake, the tail section separated from the rest of the plane, and passengers not wearing their seatbelts were instantly sucked out of the cabin.("Pilot, Part 2") At the instant the tail section had completely separated from the plane, the right engine exploded and separated from the wing. From the Barracks' point of view, a loud boom could be heard.

The front landing gear separated from the front of the plane and began falling.("A Tale of Two Cities")

General disintegration

Most of the left wing past the engine separated. Other pieces separated, including a large, black rectangular piece and two wheeled pieces of the landing gear. The right engine, trailing flames and black smoke, continued to fall.("A Tale of Two Cities")

In the mid-section, after the tail section separated, an emergency-beeping noise and engine noise continued, suggesting that the nose/mid-section was still partially operational.("Pilot, Part 2")

Nose and mid-section continued

The nose section, the mid-section, the stub of the left wing, the left engine, and part of the right wing remained together. This part of the aircraft, which contained most of the future survivors of the crash, appeared to retain some lift and it continued partially forward in the direction of the flight path. The tail section, which apparently caught the air stream and slowed down due to drag, began a more precipitous fall. As it fell, it assumed an aft-downward attitude, possibly because that was its most aerodynamic attitude.

As they continued their separate trajectories, the tail seemed to be falling toward the right and the front section toward the left of the flight path. The effect was one of "blossoming outward" from the point of separation.("A Tale of Two Cities")

Nose section and cargo compartment separated

Although not seen from the Barracks, the nose section and the cargo compartment separated from the mid-section.

Sections crashed

The mid-air break-up concluded with all fragments crashing on or near the Island.

The tail section crashed in the ocean not too far from the beach, tumbling down from the direction of the sea toward the beach. Immediately prior to impact, its attitude was "nose-up," in a sledding position that may have maximized the chances of survival for the Tailies.

A moment after the impact of the tail section, a piece trailing flames hit the surf. The shot concluded with a seat tumbling directly into the point of view of the camera.("The Other 48 Days")

The cockpit section crashed into the jungle, short of the beach where the mid-section crashed.("Pilot, Part 1")

The cargo compartment crashed inside a cave, also not too far from beach where the mid-section crashed.("White Rabbit")

The mid-section crashed on a beach on the opposite side of the island from where the tail section had crashed.("Pilot, Part 1"). According to Sayid (Season 1), it first cartwheeled through the jungle.

(Note: The actual crashes of the cockpit section, the cargo compartment and the mid-section have never been shown on the show thus far)

Contrails followed the fragments part of the way down to ground level. A trail of black smoke followed a flaming fragment all the way to ground level. Columns of dark smoke rose from two crash sites.

The "blossoming outward" effect was more evident. The trails to the right, presumably the tail section and other pieces, landed either on or near a beach. Other pieces fell either over the Island or on its far side to the left.

Alternate depictions in Via Domus

Elliott sees the mid-air break-up. ("Force Majeure")
  • The mid-air breakup is shown twice in the game Lost: Via Domus, both times from Elliott Maslow's perspective. ("Force Majeure")  ("Worth A Thousand Words")
  • In the opening sequence of "Force Majeure", Elliott is a passenger on the plane and witnesses the turbulences, the tail section of the plane breaking off, and eventually also the cockpit section breaking off, with people being sucked out of the plane on both ends.
  • In the ending sequence of "Worth A Thousand Words", Elliott is on sailboat leaving the Island, but somehow ends up witnessing the mid-air break-up of Flight 815 again, this time from below. In this version, the breakup seems to be occurring a lot faster than at the beginning of "A Tale of Two Cities".

Role of the crash

Despite all the other mysteries and plot advances that have occurred since the show's premiere, the crash and the day of the flight remain the most pivotal, and have been the event seen most frequently in flashback of any other event. The day of the flight itself has been seen in eight episodes -- "White Rabbit"; "House of the Rising Sun"; "Exodus, Part 1" and "Exodus, Part 2"; "S.O.S."; "Two for the Road"; "?"; "Exposé" -- and two mobisodes --"The Envelope" and "So It Begins". Meanwhile, the crash itself has also been seen in nine episodes -- "Pilot, Part 1" and "Pilot, Part 2"; "Walkabout"; "The Other 48 Days"; "Live Together, Die Alone"; "A Tale of Two Cities"; "Exposé"; "One of Us" and "The Other Woman". Additionally, the first night after the crash was also seen in "Pilot, Part 1", "The Other 48 Days" and "Greatest Hits".

Historical examples of mid-air break ups

While catastrophic mid-air break-ups are an unusual type of aircraft accident, they do happen. Causes include:

  • mid-air collisions
  • terrorist bombs
  • missiles
  • structural failure
  • fuel tank explosion
  • extreme weather/atmospheric conditions

Surviving mid-air break-ups is an extremely unusual circumstance.

Date Flight Aircraft Killed Survived Crash site Cause Notes
10 January 1954 BOAC Flight 781 de Haviland DH-106 Comet 35 0 Mediterranean Sea off Elba Metal fatigue The breakup is similar to that of Flight 815, in that the tail and cockpit both broke away from the main body of the plane.
26 January 1972 JAT Flight 364 DC-9-32 27 ( 5 of 6 crew, 22 pax) 1 near Hermsdorf, Czechoslovakia Bomb Flight attendant Vesna Vulović survived a 33,000 foot fall in the tail section. The crash fractured her skull, her legs and three vertebrae, temporarily paralyzing her from the waist down.
27 June 1980 Itavia Airlines 879 DC-9-15 81 (4 crew, 77 pax) 0 Tyrrhenian Sea near Italy Unknown; missile or bomb suspected. Conspiracy theories surround incident, partly due to subsequent violent deaths of associated persons.
23 June 1985 Air India Flight 182 B-747-237B 329 0 Atlantic Ocean near Ireland Bomb in forward cargo hold Until 9/11, deadliest terrorist attack involving aircraft. 280 pax were Canadian; largest mass murder in Canadian history.
12 August 1985 Japan Airlines Flight 123 B-747-SR46 520 (15 crew, 505 of 509 pax) 4 Mount Takamagahara, Japan Improper repair after previous tailstrike damaged rear pressure bulkhead. Enroute Tokyo-Osaka, aircraft's rear pressure bulkhead failed, resulting in the loss of the vertical stabilizer and other parts, depressurizing the cabin, and severing all hydraulics. The worst single aircraft accident in history. All four survivors were female; one, a 12-year-old girl, Keiko Kawakami, was found sitting on a tree branch.
31 August 1986 Aeroméxico Flight 498 DC-9-32 64 (6 crew, 58 pax) 0 Cerritos, California Mid-air collision DC-9 enroute from Mexico City to LAX. Private Piper collided with DC-9's left horizontal stabilizer, shearing Piper's cockpit, killing pilot and 2 pax. The DC-9 inverted and crashed in the residential neighborhood, killing 15 on the ground.
28 April 1988 B-737-297 1 93 (4 of 5 crew, 89 pax) N/A Manufacturing error, structural fatigue, maintenance and pre-flight check errors. Top of fuselage separated, causing decompression and severe damage. Flight attendant Clarabelle Lansing was ejected through a hole in the side of the airplane; her body was never recovered. Aircraft successfully landed. 65 people injured, eight seriously.
3 July 1988 Iran Air Flight 655 Airbus A300B2 290 (15 crew, 275 pax) 0 Persian Gulf Naval surface-to-air missiles USS Vincennes fired 2 missiles after airliner was mistaken for Iranian F-14 in attack profile.
21 December 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 B-747-100 259 (16 crew, 243 pax) 0 near Lockerbie, Scotland Bomb in forward cargo compartment. Aircraft enroute London-New York airborne for half-hour. 11 on ground killed.
24 February 1989 B-747-122 9 (9 pax) 346 (18 crew, 337 pax) N/A Failure of forward cargo door. Aircraft enroute Honolulu-Sydney, latch failed in cargo door, ripped out part of fuselage. Several rows of seats and 9 pax ejected. The airplane landed safely.
17 July 1996 TWA Flight 800 B-747-100 230 (18 crew, 212 pax) 0 Atlantic Ocean near Long Island, NY Explosion of fuel vapors in center fuel tank Aircraft enroute Paris, France disintegrated in flight and crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. Based on evidence found in similar Boeing 747 models worn wiring may have sparked the center fuel tank explosion.
12 November 2001 American Airlines Flight 587 Airbus A300-600 260 (9 crew, 251 pax) 0 Queens, NYC Pilot overreaction to wake turbulence Vertical stabilizer separated; aircraft crashed, killing all aboard and 5 on ground.
25 May 2002 China Airlines Flight 611 B-747-200 225 (19 crew, 206 pax) 0 Taiwan Strait Metal fatigue due to inadequate maintenance after a previous incident Aircraft en route Taipei-Hong Kong broke up into four pieces at altitude and crashed into sea.
24 August 2004 Volga-AviaExpress Flight 1303 Tupolev 134A 41 (7 crew, 34 pax) 0 near Tula Oblast, Russia Bomb suspected. Aircraft enroute Moscow-Volograd broke up one-half hour into flight.
24 August 2004 Siberia Airlines Flight 1047 Tupolev 154B 46 (8 crew, 38 pax) 0 near Glubokoye, Russia Bomb suspected. Aircraft enroute Moscow-Sochi broke up 20 minutes after take-off and crashed. Suspected terrorist attack coordinated with Volga flight that crashed on same day.
Totals     2385 444      
Totals (break-up followed by crash)     2375 5      

Using the accidents above as a sample, the odds of surviving a mid-air break-up, including partial break-ups that allow the aircraft to land, are 444 in 2829, or, roughly one in six. The odds of surviving a mid-air break-up that results in a crash are 5 in 2380, or, one in 476. The odds of 71 of 324 passengers surviving such an incident, then, are fairly astronomical.

See also

External links

  • Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 on which the 1990s film Alive was based and during which the tail section was separated and held several keys to the groups survival such as insulation material
  • Article about Lost Airplane paintings - In Portuguese, just translate
  • Wikipedia Category:In-flight airliner structural failures
  • Flight 815 Crash in Real Time - a ten-minute Youtube video depicting the crash from all current perspectives in "real time" in the style of 24

This article uses material from the "Mid-air break-up" article on the Lostpedia wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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