Dozens Of Southwest Airlines Planes Remain Grounded

CHICAGO (CBS) – Dozens of Southwest Airlines planes remained grounded Saturday after a close call on a flight Friday night from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif.

About 35 minutes into the Southwest Flight 812, passengers heard a loud pop and then the cabin began losing pressure as the fuselage started to rip apart, exposing the sky.

As pressure escaped the cabin, oxygen masks fell. At least one crew member and a fellow passenger fainted, one witness aboard the plane said.

Despite the loss of cabin pressure, the pilots were able make a safe emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz. No serious injuries were reported among the 118 people aboard. The NTSB investigators were examining the plane Saturday.

Transportation expert and DePaul University professor Joe Schwieterman says it will likely be a long investigation.

“This was a close call, but Southwest has had a couple of these. This is a major issue,” Schwieterman told CBS 2’s Mai Martinez at Midway Airport, where Southwest has a major presence.

“It’s a 15-year-old airplane. There’s a lot of stress issues. More maintenance, more routine checking is clearly in order here,” he added.

As a precaution, Southwest grounded 79 of its Boeing 737’s pending inspections. According to the airline, the move caused about 300 flight cancellations and delays of up to two hours on some fights across the country, including here in Chicago where most passengers took the news in stride.

Checking in for his Birmingham, Ala.-bound flight for the third time following two cancellations, Jim Slay said he had no concerns about flying.

“You know I would rather be delayed and have to take later flights knowing that safety comes first,” Slay said.

In the baggage-claim area, arriving passenger, Gail Postulka was just happy to finally reach her final destination.

“Here we are in Chicago safe and sound. Five hours later, but we’re here safe and that is all that matters,” she said.

But others say knowing a plane ripped open mid-flight is terrifying.

“It’s scary. It’s a fear you always have when you fly, but you don’t think about it until something like this,” said Douglas Thorne, who only learned about what happened on Flight 812 as he was checking in for his own Southwest flight.

Southwest says the grounded airplanes will be inspected over the course of the next several days at five locations. The airline also says it is working aggressively to minimize the impact to travel schedules.

  • Michael

    I would like to know where the ” Heavy Check” was done on this aircraft just a year ago. Southwest keeps having these structural failures on their aircraft, perhaps the Central America overhaul facility they use is not well trained on American aircraft.

    • Pat

      PLEASE get your facts right. SWA does not outsource the their maintenance to a foreign country as discussed in Testimony To U.S. House of Representatives Committee On Transportation and Infrastructure in April 2008.
      SWA is the largest 737 operator in the world. The larger the fleet the higher the probability of encountering issues.
      Since this incident I haven’t heard of any other airline flying 737-300s taking proactive steps of a precautionary safety inspection. SWA obviously feels a strong commitment to safety to pull 80 aircraft from service, regardless of cost.
      Stick to the facts. Take a look at the FAA safety reports. I think you would be surprised at the number of incidences that occur every day, requiring immediate landing.
      I’ve flown SWA for nearly 20 years and am convinced they are the most customer oriented and responsive airline in the US.

  • Do It All In The U S A

    You get what you pay for.

  • IronMan

    This phenomenon was known many years ago with the Boeing 737s. Did Boeing not get it right with the later models or was just dismissed as an isolated anomaly before? Seems all the airlines better inspect their aircraft ASAP.

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  • A.O.

    Southwest has the highest safety record that I am aware of. I use Southwest whenever I can. I will continue to fly Southwest whenever possible. In fact, my granddaughter is scheduled to fly on Wednesday on Southwest. If her flight is not canceled, I will not think twice about putting her on the plane.
    The only time I do not fly Southwest is when they do not have a flight going where I need to go. I still believe that air travel is safer than on the road.

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