The Boeing 737-300’s First Hull Loss

Philippine Airlines Flight 143 was a domestic 1hr 15 min flight from the Ninoy Aquino Airport (MNL), Manila, Philippines to Mandurriao Airport (ILO), Iloilo City. On May 11, 1990, the aircraft, a nine-month-old Boeing 737-300 with the registration number EI-BZG suffered an explosion in the central fuel tank and was consumed by fire.

While parked at Manila Airport with an outside air temperature of around 35 °C (95 °F), the air conditioner packs located beneath the center wing fuel tank had been running non-stop for approximately 30 to 45 minutes. While the center fuel tank had not been filled in more than two months, it still contained traces of fuel and vapors.

The fuel tank exploded

Shortly after pushback from the gate, an explosion pushed the aircraft’s cabin floor violently upwards. Now ruptured from the blast, the wing tanks erupted in flames. Of the 133 passengers and six crew members aboard the flight, the vast majority escaped down the emergency slides. Sadly though, there were eight passengers killed, including a child. Eighty-two passengers were sent to a hospital to treat them for smoke inhalation and other injuries.

When recollecting what had happened, several of the passengers on the plane said that they had heard multiple explosions. When commenting on the incident, the director of the Philippine Air Transport Office, Oscar Alejandro, noted that the engines were not running at the time of the blast.

Faulty wiring in the wing caused the explosion

With no signs of bombs, detonators, or incendiary devices, the general consensus was that the explosion had been triggered by faulty or damaged wiring in the wing. After receiving the plane from Boeing in 1989, Philippine Airlines fitted logo lights that required passing additional wires through the vapor seals in the fuel tanks.

Following the incident, the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) recommended the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) issue an Airworthiness Directive. The directive was to stipulate that the fuel boost pumps, float switch, and wiring looms needed to be inspected because chafing had been found. However, the FAA declined the advice from the NTSB and never issued the directive.

About Philippine Airlines

Founded in 1941, Philippine Airlines is the oldest commercial airline in Asia, operating under its original name. Headquartered at the PNB Financial Center in Pasay, with its primary hub at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) in Manila, Philippine Airlines is the national flag carrier of the Philippines.

The airline operates a fleet of narrowbody and widebody Airbus and Boeing planes. According to the aviation data and statistics website ch-aviation, the Philippine Airlines fleet is made up of the following aircraft:

  • 4 x Airbus A320-200s
  • 18 x Airbus A321-200s
  • 6 x Airbus A321neos
  • 2 x Airbus A321NXs
  • 10 X Airbus A330-300s
  • 2 X Airbus A350-900s
  • 10 x Boeing 777-300ERs

As of last year, Philippine Airlines flies to 31 domestic destinations and 43 international destinations. Its subsidiary PAL Express serves the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia and New Zealand.While not a member of any global alliance, Philippine Airlines has codeshare agreements with the following airlines:

  • Air Macau
  • All Nippon Airways
  • Bangkok Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • China Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Gulf Air
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • PAL Express (Subsidiary)
  • Royal Brunei Airlines
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • WestJet


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