Federal investigators are saying that fatigue cracks were responsible for causing a 5-foot-long, 1-foot-wide gaping hole that burst through the ceiling of a Southwest Airlines jet headed from Phoenix to Sacramento Friday.
It’s reported that the 15-year-old Boeing 737-300 quickly depressurized, causing the pilot to make an emergency landing at a Yuma military base after a rapid but controlled descent from 36,000 feet. Passenger Debbie Downey told CNN that she and her husband could see the sky as well as the plane’s wires and cables. Although many on board were shaken up, none of the 118 people on board suffered serious injuries.
Southwest Airlines canceled 300 flights and ordered inspections of approximately 80 Boeing 737-300s. While Southwest has approximately 170 Boeing 737-300s in its fleet, the aircraft under scrutiny have not had their aluminum skins replaced. “Obviously we’re dealing with a skin issue, and we believe that these 80 airplanes are covered by a set of (federal safety rules) that make them candidates to do this additional inspection that Boeing is devising for us,” Southwest spokesperson Linda Rutherford told Everett, Washington newspaper The Herald.
The incident raises concerns for federal aviation officials and airlines with older planes. The Wall Street Journal’s Andy Pasztor and Timothy W. Martin wrote that other U.S. airlines have not commented on how they’ll deal with inspecting their own aging aircraft. Flight Safety Foundation president Bill Voss said that should the findings from this incident indicate fatigue, the FAA would be forced to implement more frequent inspections.
“The safety of our Customers and Employees is our primary concern,” said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest’s executive vice president and chief operating officer in a press release issued Saturday. “We are working closely with Boeing to conduct these proactive inspections and support the investigation.” A nine-foot section of the damaged fuselage will be sent to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in Washington, DC for further examination.