Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fuselage hole forces Southwest emergency landing

Fuselage hole forces Southwest emergency landing

Published - Apr 02 2011 02:21PM EST
By WALTER BERRY and TERRY TANG - Associated Press
In this photo provided by passenger Christine Ziegler, shows an apparent hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011...
In this photo provided by passenger Christine Ziegler, shows an apparent hole in the cabin on a Southwest Airlines aircraft Friday, April 1, 2011 in Yuma, Ariz. Authorities say the flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif., was diverted to Yuma due to rapid decompression in the plane. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor says the cause of the decompression isn't immediately known. But passengers aboard the plane say there was a hole in the cabin and that forced an emergency landing. (AP photo/Christine Ziegler) NO SALES
PHOENIX — Flight attendants had begun to take drink orders when the explosion rocked the cabin.
Aboard Southwest Flight 812, Shawna Malvini Redden covered her ears, then felt a brisk wind rush by. Oxygen masks fell, the cabin lost pressure and Redden, now suddenly lightheaded, fumbled to maneuver the mask in place.
Then she prayed. And, instinctively, reached out to the stranger seated next to her in Row 8 as the pilot of the damaged aircraft began a rapid descent from some 34,400 feet in the sky.
"I don't know this dude but I was like, 'I'm going to just hold your hand,'" Redden, a 28-year-old doctoral student at Arizona State University, recalled Saturday, a day after her Phoenix-to-Sacramento flight was forced into an emergency landing at a military base in Yuma, Ariz., with a gaping hole in its fuselage.
No serious injuries were reported among the 118 people aboard , according to Southwest officials.
What caused the part of the fuselage to rupture on the 15-year-old Boeing 737-300 was a mystery, and investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Yuma on Saturday morning to begin an inquiry.
Southwest, meanwhile, grounded about 80 similar planes in its fleet for inspections, and said that some 300 flights likely would be canceled Saturday because of the reduced fleet.
Southwest operates about 170 of the 737-300s in its fleet of about 540 planes, but it replaced the aluminum skin on many of the 300s in recent years, spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said. The planes that were grounded Saturday have not had their skin replaced, she said.
"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," Rutherford said.
Julie O'Donnell, an aviation safety spokeswoman for Seattle-based Boeing Commercial Airplanes, confirmed "a hole in the fuselage and a depressurization event" in the latest incident but declined to speculate on what caused it.

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