Southwest Jet Makes Emergency Landing After Gremlin Rips Hole In Fuselage

Southwest Airlines flight 2298 made an emergency landing in West Virginia yesterday after a hole appeared on the top of the plane while in flight. “Passengers reported that they could see the sky through the rupture,” writes the Washington Post. It left Nashville around 4:05pm, but landed only 50 minutes later. According to this WPRI video clip, Southwest spent the night inspecting 181 of its Boeing 737-300 jets, and they say there should be no delays today.

Update: Here’s a passenger’s blurry cell-cam video of the hole in the roof. (Thanks to Chad!)

For a dramatization of the event, watch this clip. (Or the remake here.)

“Hole in Baltimore-Bound Plane Compels Landing” [Washington Post]
“Southwest Inspects Boeing 737-300s After Hole Forms in Fuselage” [Bloomberg]

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  1. Anonymous says:

    While I wouldn’t call this normal, it may be “by design.” The metal skin of the airplane does break down overtime. Eventually the pressure can cause part of the fuselage to burst. However, instead of ripping away huge parts of the fuselage, the skin has built in “tear strips” which are designed to allow a compromised part of the skin to burst away without pulling other sections along with it.

    I don’t know if that’s what happened, just my guess educated by Discovery Channel. Good to hear no one was hurt.

  2. Coles_Law says:

    They are very lucky-I’m surprised the hole remained football sized. Usually a failure like that converts the plane into a convertible very quickly. At any rate, kudos to the crew for keeping everyone calm.

    • TheStateOnDVD2Day_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @Coles_Law: Only in the movies. Hawaii Airlines was unique in the fatigue the fuse experienced due to the short jumps and constant exposure to salt air.

    • missdona says:

      @Coles_Law: I was on this plane last year.

      [www.nytimes.com]

      Our hole was a lot bigger than a football, and everything was okay. I’m by no means an expert, but my aviation-type relatives tell me that Boeing planes have panels that are riveted in a way, that a few can peel off and it will still fly. We flew for an hour with our giant hole and landed just fine.

      • AngryK9 says:

        @missdona: As long as the fusualge’s structural “skeleton” (for lack of better term) is not damaged, and the control surfaces (alerons, flaps, elevators, engines, rudder/vertical stablizer) are not compromised, and as ling as the aircraft is below 10,000 feet, it will remain in the air even with a large hole in the skin. Below 10,000 feet, you’re likely not going to have explosive decompression that could blow people out of the aircraft. If this aircraft was at 30,000 when this happened, it would have ended much worse.

    • CurtBabarong says:

      @Coles_Law: on a Beoing 737-300 there are tear straps across the body of the aircraft spaced appx. 10inches apart. The hole probably either occured because of a faliure of a patch from the removal of an antenna or some other type of external equipment, some ramp rash from ground equipment that went unnoticed, or simple metal fatigue. In relation to the Hawaii incedent, it was more extreme because the tear straps failed.

  3. CheritaChen says:

    “Want to see something really scary?”

  4. ninabi says:

    Southwest Airlines was fined by the FAA last year for not doing mandatory fuselage inspections. I’m left wondering if things changed all that much after they paid up.

    [www.dallasnews.com]

  5. post_break says:

    Lets not forget this incident.
    Hawaiian flight 243 [cache.gettyimages.com]

  6. sicknick says:

    This happened much worse on a HawaiiAir flight (I may have the company wrong). It’s not as bad as one might think. I learned about it through salon.com’s Ask The Pilot weekly article. He mentioned it when talking about how the liquid bad on airplanes is stupid because there’s no way one could create a binary liquid bomb on a flight and even if they somehow did do it, it probably wouldn’t bring down the plane since they can land without a roof.

    • TheStateOnDVD2Day_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @sicknick: Well, unless the pilot was also BATF, I will trust him to fly a plane, not diffuse a IED. You would be utterly amazed what people with a will to do something can do. IIRC, Lockerbie PanAm Flight 103 was taken down by a bomb in a radio from the bits of circuit board they found. It created a 20 inch hole that brought the plane down before the pilots/crew could even react.

      • floraposte says:

        @TheStateOnDVD2Day_GitEmSteveDave: Worth expanding that explanation a little, though: the size of the hole isn’t really the issue, since it was the force of the explosion and subsequent shock waves that caused the damage. (Which I think you probably know, but it sounded a little like you were saying that the plane fell apart from a 20-inch hole, which it didn’t.)

        • sicknick says:

          @floraposte: Yeah, but my point in mentioning the binary liquid part was from what the author of the Salon piece referenced in a story The Guardian did around the time the whole ‘terrorist plot’ was broken up and we all had to begin taking ziplock bags with 2 oz only of shampoo. Basically, the aritcle told you the easiest method of creating any binary explosive. It’s been awhile since I read it, but I remember it involved A) getting a bottle of champagne with ice bucket B) getting bucket AND ice into the bathroom without questions asked C) sitting in there for over an hour while you drip one ingredient into the other that’s iced down, at a slow enough pace to not create excessive heat so it blows prematurely.

          And true, a small enough explosion COULD do damage enough, but the point was that having a hole in the fuselage isn’t going to automatically bring down a plane.

  7. I Love New Jersey says:

    Reminds me of the first rule of flying, “If it isn’t Boeing, I am not going.”

    • theblackdog says:

      @I Love New Jersey: Except that Southwest only uses Boeing planes.

    • NoPornstar says:

      @I Love New Jersey: Several years ago, I dated an engineer who worked for McDonnell Douglas, his specialty was safety systems. When he dropped me off at LAX to catch my flight to Hawaii and saw that I was going on a 737, he said, “Nice knowing you.” Ugh.

      • floraposte says:

        @JLHilton: Was that during the rudder problems era? Because otherwise 737s have been pretty damn stellar–certainly more so than, say, the MD-11.

        • NoPornstar says:

          @floraposte: Hey, I think you’re right. It WAS the Boeing he liked… the DC-10 he did NOT. Sorry… it was about 20 years ago. Right. DC-10’s would have been the McDonnell Douglas planes on which he worked.

          Pass me the Metamucil… I’ll be on my Hoveround, knitting booties for my 20 cats.

  8. Nighthawke says:

    ALOHA AIR Flight 243 was the product of mysterious problem that is metal fatigue. It is considered a miracle that they got the plane down in one piece with all the buffeting and unusual stresses the aircraft was experiencing.

    • TheStateOnDVD2Day_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @Nighthawke: IIRC, the pilot reported that is was the smoothest landing he had ever felt up until that point.

      • Nighthawke says:

        @TheStateOnDVD2Day_GitEmSteveDave: It had to be, any hard jolts the airframe would have failed even further, breaking the airframe in two and making a big mess. The aircraft’s aerodynamics were unstable and they had a very, very narrow envelope of stability, especially when engine #1 went out on FOD getting sucked into it.

  9. HogwartsAlum says:

    I saw this on MSN, but I like Consumerist’s headline better. :)

    “THERE’S A MAN ON THE WING OF THIS PLANE!”
    (sorry, couldn’t resist)

  10. Anonymous says:

    The real miracle is that the airport was able to handle that plane to begin with.

    I’ve flown to Yeager Airport before… small runway on top of a mountain. It’s scary with the puddle jumper planes, so I can’t imagine a 737 with any emergency being a great landing experience.

  11. Lizzy4e says:

    regardless of the FCC inspection issues, Southwest Airlines has the best safety record of any airline in operation today. The entire fleet is all Boeing 737’s so there is no confusion on parts or maintainance proceedures. The pilots are sharp and aware. They are my GoTo airline. I will fly them before anyone else. I live in Dallas. Southwest is headquartered here.

    • Anonymous says:

      @PatrickGabrys:

      Surely you meant FAA. Surely you meant Southwest has maybe the second-best safety record, because it is behind Qantas. Surely you didn’t mean that just because an airline uses one airplane, there is no confusion on maintaining it. Surely you realize that Boeing makes several versions of the 737 and that some do use different parts. The rest of your post is spot-on, though I am not sure how to check whether the pilots are sharp and aware.

  12. wvFrugan says:

    I can just about see this airport from my home. Being that this airport is on the top of a cut-off mountain, it is one of the more challenging to land at. This is one of the airports that Air Force 1 uses to practice aborted landings (touch down & take back off). Makes the windows rattle. I figure that the gremlin is enjoying the area: probably already has a date with a local & scored some of the local crop that is at peak.

  13. Trai_Dep says:

    So is the airline industry finally instituting smoking sections back on board?
    AWEsome!

  14. xredgambit says:

    Lucky Bastards. They could then stop in the terminal and eat from Tudors. I love me some good old fashon sausage melted cheese biscuits. mmmmmmmm

    But glad no one was hurt.

  15. NoPornstar says:

    Personally, I have had it with these metal-ripping snakes on this uninspected plane.

  16. DanC922 says:

    lol My brother builds 737-300’s.

  17. ChristopherDavis says:

    @CurtBabarong: One theory on the Aloha incident is that the tear straps didn’t fail directly; in this scenario, the hole started, was arrested by the tear straps, and was then plugged by the flight attendant being sucked into it. At that point, there was a “water hammer” type effect created, which generated enough of a pressure spike to cause the larger failure.

    I’m not enough of an engineer to evaluate this hypothesis, but it at least sounds plausible. (Time for the Mythbusters to take a look at it?)

  18. Snockered says:

    “Literally the whole top of the plane ripped off.” LITERALLY??

    I certainly don’t hold it against the guy for saying that while staring through a hole in the top of an airplane he was flying in, but why would a news story quote something so ridiculous (and easily proven false by the video accomppanying story)?