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Hole in Fuselage Prompts Southwest to Inspect All 737s

Locations in this article:  Baltimore, MD Nashville, TN

Southwest AirlinesA 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.

Southwest LogoAs 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.

Learn more about Southwest’s safety record:

It is unclear whether the missed inspections had any connection with yesterday’s incident, but Southwest claims that the plane had been recently inspected and no signs of cracks or metal fatigue were found.

The most prominent incident of a plane’s fuselage tearing open was in 1988, when an 18-foot section of an Aloha Airlines jet tore off, killing a flight attendant who was sucked out of the aircraft.

By Karen Elowitt for

Related links: Washington Post, Bloomberg, Associated Press

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