Sunday, April 03, 2011

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Inspectors found "widespread cracking" in Southwest plane

By Colleen Jenkins Colleen Jenkins – 1 hr 9 mins ago

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (Reuters) – National safety inspectors have found evidence of "widespread cracking" and fatigue on the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that made an emergency landing in Arizona with a hole in the cabin, a government official said on Sunday.

"Was the aircraft well maintained and should it have been maintained better? That is exactly why we are here, to look at why this problem occurred," National Transportation Safety Board Member Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference broadcast from Yuma, Arizona via internet streaming.

As a result of the incident, Southwest has grounded part of its fleet for inspections. The airline canceled 300 flights on Saturday and said it expects to cancel another 300 flights on Sunday as the investigation continues into what caused the hole to develop during Southwest Flight 812 on Friday.

The flight from Phoenix to Sacramento landed at a military base in Yuma, Arizona, after the hole appeared suddenly at about mid cabin.

The cancellations are likely to continue for the next few days, said Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger.

Airline mechanics soon will saw out the portion of the plane skin that fractured, and it will be shipped overnight to Washington for further inspection, Sumwalt said.
The piece is expected to be about eight to nine feet long and two feet wide and will weigh about three to four pounds.

"We did find evidence of widespread cracking across this entire fracture surface," said Sumwalt.

But determining exactly where the cracks are is "a very involved process," he said.

Recorders from Flight 812 arrived at NTSB's headquarters on Saturday night.

They indicated that the decompression occurred approximately 18 1/2 minutes after takeoff, Sumwalt said. The flight crew donned oxygen masks and declared an emergency.
The plane descended from its cruising altitude of 36,000 feet to 11,000 feet in approximately 4 1/2 minutes, Sumwalt said.

An inspection of the oxygen generators that supply oxygen to passengers indicated that the generators all had been activated, Sumwalt said.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Greg McCune)
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