Southwest Boeing 737 depressurizes, makes emergency landing
On Friday, April 1, Southwest Airlines Flight 812 from Phoenix to Sacramento was forced to make an emergency landing at the Ariz.-based Yuma Marine Corps Air Station after the cabin lost air pressure. Of the 118 passengers and five crew members on board, only two minor injuries were reported.
After landing in Yuma, Southwest crew members reported a gaping hole in the top of the plane, roughly mid-cabin. According to Southwest, early accounts indicated the plane lost pressure and oxygen masks were deployed.
To Southwest Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven, preventing such incidents in the future is the airline's No. 1 priority. “The safety of our customers and employees is our primary concern, and we are grateful there were no serious injuries,” Van de Ven said in a statement. “We have launched personnel to Yuma to begin the investigation process with the [National Transportation Safety Board] (NTSB), [Federal Aviation Administration] (FAA), and appropriate parties to determine the cause of the depressurization.”
So far, the airline has grounded 79 Boeing 737 planes and canceled 670 flights to inspect the issue. Of the aircraft examined, five planes have necessitated further repairs. Inspections were completed by April 5.
Van de Ven praises the team of individuals who have worked to expedite the process. “I could not be more proud of our maintenance and engineering professionals who supported Boeing and the FAA in the establishment of these new inspection procedures,” he said in a statement. “Boeing has since identified an inspection program for this section of the aircraft. Based on this incident and the additional findings, we expect further action from Boeing and the FAA for operators of the 737-300 fleet worldwide.”
His expectations came true: On April 5, the FAA mandated that all older Boeing 737s undergo inspection for damage. This ruling will affect nearly 175 aircraft, all of which have departed and landed more than 30,000 times. Southwest, which houses the majority of the U.S.-registered 737-300s, 737-400s and 737-500s, is affected the greatest of the domestic carriers. The older planes will all receive regular electromagnetic inspections to check for wear and tear.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who serves as chairman on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, encourages Americans to remain confident in air travel. “As the details of this unusual incident unfold, we will get a better understanding of what caused the plane’s fuselage to tear open,” Rockefeller said in a statement. “I expect the FAA to be painstakingly diligent in reviewing the safety of all aircraft, and to conduct a careful investigation into what caused the cracks that have been discovered on the bodies of these planes.”
Furthermore, Boeing has announced that it’s collaborating with the FAA, NTSB and Southwest to create a bulletin advocating lap joint inspection on specific 737 aircraft. Although examining lap joints is nothing new, inspectors have never utilized advanced monitoring tools because they considered that part of the plane impervious to cracks.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood touted the importance of such precautions. “Last Friday’s incident was very serious and could result in additional action depending on the outcome of the investigation,” he said in a statement.
This wasn’t Southwest’s only incident over the weekend, however. On Sunday, April 3, a Boeing 737-300 Oakland-to-San Diego flight carrying 142 people was rerouted to Los Angeles after pilots noticed a “burning electrical smell in the cabin.” Southwest Spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said the event was “completely unrelated to the issue in Arizona” and was resolved quickly. “They swapped aircraft and went on to their destination,” Eichinger said in a statement.
In total, Southwest manages a fleet of 548 737 planes.