Southwest Airline Accident Raises Concerns Over Boeing 737 Engines

The Boeing 737 engines on more than 220 Southwest Airline planes will be thoroughly inspected by federal aviation experts, after an emergency landing this week following engine problems that sent shrapnel through the side of the cabin, resulting in the death of a passenger. 

According to its twitter account, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will order an air-worthiness directive in the next two weeks, which will require an inspection of the Southwest Airline jet engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs, to determine the safety and integrity of the components.

The directive comes after a passenger was killed due to a blunt force trauma, when a Boeing 737 engine on Southwest flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, while traveling from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas, with 149 people on board.

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Preliminary investigations by FAA officials indicate that 20 minutes into the flight, one of the 24 fan blades in the engine broke off causing an engine explosion. The explosion sent debris through one of the windows, ripping into the cabin of the plane and causing a passenger to be partially pulled out of the window.

Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive who was seated next to the window in row 14 where the explosion occurred, was killed due to blunt force trauma. Reports indicate Riordan was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat after the explosion, as the cabin started to rapidly decompress.

Although fellow passenger rushed to pull Riordan back into the cabin, she ultimately died later Tuesday evening due to the injuries suffered to her head, neck and torso, according to the Philadelphia medical examiner.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt reported in a news conference on Wednesday morning that the broken fan blade was found to have suffered major metal fatigue, causing the unexpected break.

Sumalt noted that without taking off the engines cover on each side of the plane, maintenance crews are not able to identify issues such as fan blade fatigue or other potentially serious problems that could lead to many fatalities.

Following the plane’s emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, investigators found additional fan blades that were near the point of breaking away, showing visible signs of metal fatigue that could result in similar events in the near future.

NTSB and FAA investigators announced on Tuesday that they would be examining the maintenance records of the airline and to see if they completed the 2016 FAA ultrasonic inspection proposal.

The fatal event has led the FAA to order a mandatory directive that will require an ultrasonic inspection of all 220 planes operated by Southwest Airlines, which will be examined over the next six months.

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