Cracks in three more Southwest planes

2011-04-04 21:47

Los Angeles - Engineers have found cracks in three more Southwest Airlines planes after a hole ripped open in an aircraft carrying 123 people, forcing it to make an emergency landing, the US airline said on Monday.

The airline cancelled a further 70 flights, after some 300 were taken off the schedule on Sunday following the mid-air scare on Friday on a flight from Phoenix, Arizona to Sacramento, California.

Fifty-seven aircraft have so far been tested and returned to service, Southwest said in an update on inspections on 79 Boeing 737-300 planes in the company's fleet, to address possible "skin fatigue" on ageing airliners.

"Additional inspections have identified three aircraft with the subsurface cracks. Those aircraft will remain out of service until appropriate repairs can be completed," it said.

"The airline continues to inspect aircraft and will put those with no findings back into service," it added, saying the tests were designed to detect "any subsurface fatigue in the skin that is not visible to the eye".

No-one on Flight 812 was seriously hurt when the hole tore open with a loud bang, causing a sudden loss of pressure and triggering passengers to grasp for oxygen masks and frantically text loved ones.

The plane, suffering from a 1.5m by 0.3m gash in its roof, landed without incident at an Arizona military base, where the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is examining the damaged jet.

Inspected on Tuesday

"We did find evidence of widespread cracking across this entire fracture surface," NTSB member Robert Sumwalt told a press briefing broadcast from Yuma via internet on Sunday.

A further NTSB briefing was scheduled for later on Monday.

Southwest said the plane had undergone all necessary Federal Aviation Administration inspections, including the extensive overhaul in March 2010, and was given a routine inspection on Tuesday, according to Fox News.

Southwest's entire fleet of 548 planes is comprised of 737s, including about 170 Boeing 737-300s, the oldest in the fleet.

The airline's planes average 11.2 years of age. Boeing 737-300s were produced from 1984 to 1999.

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