NTSB Identification: LAX99IA072.
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Incident occurred Tuesday, January 05, 1999 in PHOENIX, AZ
Probable Cause Approval Date: 06/21/2000
Aircraft: Boeing 727-225A, registration: N804MA
Injuries: 180 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various sources and may not have traveled in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft incident report.

During takeoff, a passenger in row 32 saw the rear cargo door open as the airplane rotated and notified a flight attendant, who immediately advised the cockpit. The flight crew heard and felt bangs and airframe vibrations, declared an emergency, and returned for a landing without incident. Airport fire personnel saw the cargo door open 90 degrees and the handle to be in or flush with the door as it stopped on the runway. Crew interviews established that the airplane was late being repositioned to the loading area for a scheduled 0830 departure and arrived there at 0800. The captain said the flight engineer was hustling to finish his duties before departure, and after that he performed his final walk-around, which included checking the cargo doors, there were no cargo door lights on the annunciator panel. The captain said that the load manifest showed 172 passengers; 168 passengers were already on the airplane and 2 others arrived late. The ground handlers gave him a final count of 202 bags loaded in the cargo compartments before the late arriving passengers. The ground handling company stated they were positive they loaded a total of 202 bags onboard the airplane, although 5-6 bags were loaded just before the aircraft left. A postincident bag count revealed that there were 208 bags onboard the airplane. The ground handling company said that they were not rushed while working the airplane. With the handle closed, the door will not close flush with the doorframe. The aft cargo door proximity switch was tested and contamination was found between contact terminals; however, no determination could be made whether it would cause an indication anomaly on the annunciator panel. The cargo door open warning light and circuit functioned normally during postincident functional tests. According to the airline's Flight Operations Manual, the flight engineer is responsible for supervising the loading of the aircraft and ensuring that all doors are properly closed and locked.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this incident to be:

The failure of the ground handling personnel to properly secure the aft cargo door following the loading of the late arriving baggage. A factor in the incident was an intermittent cargo door warning light circuit due to contamination in the proximity switch terminals.

Full narrative available

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