Holed Southwest Airlines plane forced to make emergency descent and landing ‘had metal fatigue’ in fuselage

2.4.2011 (BBC)
Also, 4.4.2011  Inspectors find cracks in threre other Southwest 737 aircraft 

An examination of a US plane that developed a hole in its cabin roof in mid-flight
has found evidence of metal fatigue in the fuselage.

The hole caused a sudden drop in cabin pressure, and Flight 812 from Phoenix
to Sacramento was forced to make a steep descent and emergency landing.

The jet carrying more than 100 people landed safely in Arizona.

Owners Southwest Airlines cancelled 300 flights on Sunday to allow for inspections
of 79 of its aircraft.

One flight attendant was slightly injured during the incident on Friday but no-one
was seriously hurt.

There were 118 passengers and crew on board the 15-year-old plane.

Investigators said the rip began where two outer panels were riveted together,
and that the area around it showed evidence of pre-existing cracking due to fatigue.

“We did find evidence of widespread cracking across this entire fracture surface,”
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt told reporters.

The plane is one of the oldest in Southwest’s fleet and has made thousands of
flights, but the company said it had undergone all required inspections.

Describing the incident, passenger Brenda Reese said the plane had just left
Phoenix when she heard a “gunshot-like sound”.

Passengers on board the Southwest Airlines flight described what happened

Witnesses said a couple of people nearly passed out while scrambling for oxygen

Aviation officials said the pilot made a controlled descent, dropping 8,000m
(25000ft) from 11,000m in about five minutes.

The same thing happened to another Southwest jet in 2009. Then, metal fatigue
was the cause.

The company changed its maintenance programme as a result, but before that incident
Southwest Airlines paid millions of dollars to settle charges it was skipping

In 1988, cracks caused a hole to open in an Aloha Airlines plane over Hawaii.
In that incident, a flight attendant died.
see also

Holed Southwest Airlines flight makes emergency landing

2.4.2011  (BBC)

An airliner has made an emergency landing in the United States after a gaping
hole in the roof caused a sudden drop in cabin pressure.

Southwest Airlines flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento put down safely at a
military air base in Arizona.

Passengers heard a bang as the roof panel blew open in the cabin. “You can see
completely outside,” one woman told the Associated Press news agency.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fuselage to rupture.

An FBI spokesman said terrorism was not suspected and “it appears to be a mechanical

‘Dropped pretty quick’

Passenger Brenda Reese said the Boeing 737 plane had just left Phoenix when she
heard a “gunshot-like sound”.

“It’s at the top of the plane, right up above where you store your luggage,”
she told AP by telephone from the plane.

“The panel’s not completely off. It’s like ripped down… When you look up through
the panel, you can see the sky.”

An unidentified Southwest Airlines flight 812 passenger, right, is hugged by a loved one after arriving at Sacramento International Airport Friday, April 1, 2011.
Passengers said they were happy to be alive 

She said the plane “dropped pretty quick”.

Another woman on board said: “They had just taken drink orders when I heard a
huge sound and oxygen masks came down.

“There was a hole in the fuselage about three feet long. You could see the insulation
and the wiring. You could see a tear the length of one of the ceiling panels,”
the woman told a local television station.

Aviation officials said the pilot made a rapid, controlled descent.

The National Transportation Safety Board said an “in-flight fuselage rupture”
led to the sudden descent and drop in cabin pressure.

“We do not know the cause of the decompression,” Federal Aviation Administration
spokesman Ian Gregor said.

Southwest Airlines said no injuries were reported among the 118 passengers on
board. One flight attendant was slightly injured, the statement said.
see also

Southwest Airlines cancels 300 flights, begins inspecting aircraft

Southwest Airlines is inspecting 79 of its Boeing 737-300 jets after an incident
Friday when a three-foot section of the overhead fuselage ripped open. The airline
canceled 300 flights Sunday.

2.4.2011 (Christian Science Monitor)

Southwest Airlines canceled 300 flights Sunday as it began inspecting 79 of its
Boeing 737-300 passenger jets.


What Southwest says will be “an aggressive inspection effort in cooperation with
Boeing engineers” follows an emergency Friday when a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento,
Calif., had to make an emergency landing at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma,

Shortly after Flight 812 had reached an altitude of 36,000 feet, a five-foot
section of the overhead fuselage ripped open, depressurizing the cabin and slightly
injuring a flight attendant and one passenger.

Inspectors will be looking for evidence of “aircraft skin fatigue” in the grounded
jetliners. Flight data recordings and maintenance records for the damaged aircraft
will be inspected as well.

“Our mission is to determine not only what happened, but figure out why it happened,
so that we can prevent things like this from happening in the future,” National
Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) member Robert Sumwalt told reporters Saturday.
“If we find deficiencies that need addressing… we can issue an urgent safety recommendation
at any point during the investigation.”

According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the US fleet includes
288 Boeing 737-300s (about 170 of them flown by Southwest), and 931 operate worldwide.

The first 737-700 flew in 1984, and Boeing built more than 1,000 of the aircraft
until 1999. Since then, the aircraft – which Southwest is gradually replacing
with newer models – have undergone regular mandatory inspections, including the
airframe and skin for any evidence of metal fatigue.

The aircraft in question is about 15 years old. Federal records show cracks in
the airframe were found and repaired a year ago, according to the Associated Press.

FAA records of maintenance problems for the aircraft showed that in March 2010
at least eight instances were found of cracking in the aircraft frame, reports
the AP. The records showed that those cracks were repaired.

According to Southwest, the airline over the years has replaced the skin on most
of its 737-300s, which is the oldest aircraft in Southwest’s fleet. Those grounded
for inspection this weekend had not yet had their skin replaced.

Friday’s incident was not the first.

In July, 2009, Southwest Flight 2294 flying from Nashville to Baltimore at 34,000
feet had a
football-sized hole in its fuselage near the tail, which caused rapid decompression and a forced landing in Charleston,
West Virginia. No one was injured. The NTSB determined that metal fatigue had
been the cause.

According to the Dallas-based airline, Southwest’s fleet aircraft average 11
years old and fly six times a day for nearly 11 hours on relatively short trips
averaging 648 miles and just under two hours.
see also

3 Times in 3 years Southwest Airlines Has Gaping Hole in Fuselage: 3 Strikes
and You’re Out!

NAPA, Calif., April 2, 2011

FAA’s Self-Evaluation Program Like “Fox Guarding the Hen House”


NAPA, Calif., April 2, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Yesterday, on the heels
of the FAA secretly mandating removal of oxygen generators from airline lavatories,
both American Airlines flight 547 and Southwest Airlines flight 812 decompressed.
On BOTH flights, the oxygen masks deployed and people passed out due to an apparent
lack of oxygen. The FAA justified that risk by saying that decompressions rarely

“The FAA has long asserted that the airlines can self-regulate in the area of
safety inspections, but clearly the airlines cannot be trusted. It’s the fox guarding
the hen house and it’s got to stop,” Kate Hanni said. “The airlines are motivated
only by their bottom line, cost cutting, and razor thin margins; that doesn’t
leave a lot of room for ‘in cabin safety’ issues or tap testing the fuselage for
cracks. The FAA must step in and impose fines that are meaningful and inspections
that actually work to determine life or death safety issues both inside and outside
the aircraft.”

FlyersRights.org believes the FAA should immediately take steps to:


  • Inspect fuselages of all Southwest Airlines aircraft, mandating repairs that
    will prevent gaping holes that cause life threatening mid-air decompression events

  • Test oxygen mask deployment systems to ensure they will automatically deploy

  • Test oxygen systems to ensure that oxygen is getting to the masks

  • Test the walk-around oxygen canisters inside the cabin for emergency use on ill
    passengers to ensure that they are properly charged

  • FlyersRights.org believes the FAA should immediately impose mandates:



  • Rescinding self-evaluation privileges when an airline has three strikes (three
    of the same major safety event)

  • Impose fines that will be so dissuasive that the airlines will correct immediately
    any defects they do detect (and don’t forgive those fines as is historical for

“The flying public has the right to expect that every commercial airliner to
be safe, every time they fly.”


“The FAA has a duty and obligation to ensure that we are safe.”

“Who is responsible for our safety?”
see also


Hole in Fuselage Prompts Southwest to Inspect All 737s

A day after a Southwest Airlines plane bound for Baltimore developed a hole in
its fuselage while in flight, the airline has completed emergency inspections
of all 181 of its Boeing 737-300 jets as a precaution.

Flight 2298 was about 30 minutes into a flight from Nashville, Tennessee, yesterday
afternoon when passengers heard a loud roar, looked up, and noticed a 1-foot by
1-foot hole in the roof of the plane.

The hole caused the jet to rapidly depressurize, and prompted the cabin oxygen
masks to deploy.

Flight crew made a successful emergency landing in Charleston, West Virginia,
shortly thereafter. Passengers reportedly remained calm during the incident and
no one was injured.

After landing in Charleston airline personnel inspected the hole, which was located
on the top of the fuselage near the base of the tail. The company has said that
it is unsure what caused it to develop. Boeing and the National Transportation
Safety Board are also sending inspectors to Charleston to help with the investigation.

As a precaution Southwest immediately began inspecting similar jets in its fleet
for signs of cracks or metal fatigue, but as of Tuesday morning no additional
problems were found. No jets have been taken out of service, and Southwest is
continuing its normal flight schedule without cancellations or delays.

Southwest’s fleet of 540 planes has an average age of 10.2 years, and is made
up entirely of 737s including 300s, 400s, and 700s. The 737-300s make up one-third
of the fleet and have an average age of 17.7 years.

The company had come under fire recently for not complying with FAA rules on
fuselage safety inspections in 2007. It was fined $10.2 million by the agency
last year but fought the fine. Four months ago the airline came to a compromise
with the FAA, agreeing to pay the reduced amount of $7.5 million, and increase
oversight of maintenance activities.