FAA: Southwest Engine Experienced Vibration. Passengers: The Engine Exploded!

According to the FAA, Southwest flight 438 returned to Dallas’ Love Field on November 17 when the plane “experienced a vibration in the number 2 engine” shortly after take-off. According to passengers on the flight, the plane flew for thirty minutes before the right engine experienced “fatal engine failure.”

The discrepancy is raising a few eyebrows over at FlightStory. One passenger writes:

It was not during takeoff. There was alot of damage. There was no vibration. It doesnt say anything about an uncontained explosion at 25,000ft. I was sitting on that engine watching it happen with my own two eyes. The fan blades shot out towards the plane leaving holes on the engine cowlings and a huge hole on th other side.There was no vibration, but a huge explosion. That report is false and they should really clean it up! The blades could have easily penatrated the fusalage causing a crash, or went through and killed a passenger.

Another explains in harrowing detail:

We all thought we were going to die! We said our goodbyes. There was an explosion and holes in the right engine with something sharp still sticking out of the engine. The plane started shaking so bad. The flight attendant was crying and one was getting oxygen because she was hyperventilating. They were able to turn the flight around and land with no incident but not before the longest 20 minutes back to the ground and the plane being surrounded by firetrucks. A big chunk of the engine flew off and luckily it went away from the aircraft because if it came toward us, we wouldn’t be here. The chunk was on the outer side of the engine not seen from our view but could be seen while walking off the aircraft. There were smaller holes though in our view of the top of the engine. I saw the pilots taking photos when we made it to the ground so hopefully the FAA will do the right thing and investigate how this could happen.

Regardless of which account is accurate, it is still impressive that Southwest’s pilots managed to safely land their wounded plane. The NTSB has launched an investigation.

Follow-up – Southwest Engine Failure [FlightStory]


Edit Your Comment

  1. TMurphy says:

    A job-well-done goes to the engineers who designed the plane to safely fly (briefly) despite major malfunction.

    And a slap goes to Southwest for their lack of honesty. I try to believe Southwest, on the account that they would know they can’t get away with “engine vibration”, when dozens of passengers witnessed otherwise, so they would have to tell the real story. But, I can’t believe them when they have far more motivation to lie than these passengers would, so I’ll call the airline the liar.

  2. jamesdenver says:

    Yeah like I’m going to believe the flying public’s hysterical outgrys over pilots and engineers? Yes I realize their version is sanitized too – but that’s why I like Patrick Smith’s Column when it comes to this stuff:


  3. LiC says:

    It’s the FAA’s report. Strangely enough, I’ll feel safer flying Southwest knowing the pilots aren’t just monkeys pushing an auto pilot button.

  4. DallasDMD says:

    @jamesdenver: I think the photograph is pretty telling.

  5. Buran says:

    @TMurphy: Actually, Southwest is right. Fan blade failure can be caused by vibrations, maybe caused by something being unbalanced. This is NOT an explosion! Why is something flying off an engine considered an “explosion”?

    Yes, jet engines can lose fan blades. It’s bad when it happens, and yes, it was fortunate that the blade went out away from the fuselage, but THERE WAS NO LIE HERE. Just uninformed hysterical people who either don’t know better or who are themselves lying to cover their cluelessness. More likely, they’re just clueless and think they’re experts.

    Hey, hysterical people, how about you let those of us who do know what we’re talking about do the talking, and SHUT UP?

  6. Half Beast says:

    Kudos to the pilots for safely putting the plane back down without further incident. I couldn’t even begin to describe how I’d handle having an engine rip itself asunder mid-flight.

  7. Buran says:

    @LiC: Most pilots do use the autopilot for most of their route. Don’t forget the saying that being a pilot is hours of sheer boredom separated by moments of stark terror.

    The skill in being a pilot isn’t the normal flights. It’s handling things when something goes wrong.

    The space shuttle flies automatically under computer control for most of the flight. The training you spend hours and hours and hours on is what to do when something goes wrong. What if an engine fails? What if something gets damaged and the orbiter doesn’t fly normally on approach? What if?

  8. DallasDMD says:

    @Buran: Regardless of whether it is technically accurate or not, the report clearly makes the incident out to be a minor problem rather than a catastrophic one that could have resulted in fatalities.

    When someone reads “vibrations”, they just think its a minor glitch. Although calling it an explosion might be inaccurate, it certainly more accurately reflects how serious the problem was.

  9. Ecoaster says:

    The planes are basically 100% overpowered… there’s no problem at all flying on one engine and pilots are well trained to handle such things. In that respect it’s not a big deal. Shutting down an engine happens more than you might imagine.

    The UNCONTAINED failure of the engine is the part that seems to be of much more concern.

  10. kpfeif says:

    So what? The engine had an “uncontained failure.” Sure, it’d be better if it were contained, but the plane did exactly as designed – it kept flying. Engines fail on airplanes everyday, perhaps not as spectacularly. Those engines are incredibly complex machines and even small defects can make turbines fail.

  11. ninabi says:

    Most airlines outsource their maintenance to other countries.

    The engines are the most reliable parts of the aircraft.

    I’m curious to see what the investigation reveals.

    Glad it ended well, nobody hurt.

  12. Trai_Dep says:

    Much more exciting than the in-flight movie, eh?

    Uh oh, I hope the airlines don’t start charging extra for Thrill Ride upgrades.

    By the way, commercial airplanes are rated to be able to take off and land using only one engine. That is, during lifting off/approach, if all but one engine says sayonara, and the jet can’t make a controlled (non-crashing, burning pyre of flaming hell), it’s not certified.

    NOT that I’d want to be on that flight. But while adrenaline-charged, it was well within its flight parameters.

  13. Trai_Dep says:

    PS: the alt text should have read, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty… Fluffy? Fluffy?!

  14. Buran says:

    @DallasDMD: Then say “catastrophic failure” which is accurate and still gets the point across.

  15. Buran says:

    @DallasDMD: Oh, and I must add that FAA reports have to be accurate. Relatively speaking, this was minor, no one was hurt, the plane can fly on one engine (they’re designed to), it wasn’t an explosion, and so on. Report’s right.

  16. homerjay says:

    I wonder if they got to use those cool slides.

  17. cde says:

    @Buran: A giant killer fan taking an unexpected trip out of the turbine casing = explosion.

  18. P41 says:

    Doesn’t say anything about Southwest’s side of the story, only the FAA vs the passengers. But the photo does side with the passengers.

    Although I don’t buy that everyone would be dead if parts had flown inward instead of outward. Casualties possibly, but you really need damage like a TWA 800 (catastrophic explosion) or a UA 232 (massive control failure) to kill large numbers. All they lost was an engine, so no longer impressive they landed it safely, only reassuring.

    Picture doesn’t show any slides deployed, but the source of the picture is most likely a passenger; doubtful the airline’s going to volunteer that kind of thing.

  19. majortom1981 says:

    For some reason this makes me feel safer to fly southwest. Knowing that this happened and the pilots were able to land the plane. Also it said they turned around.

  20. BigNutty says:

    I don’t care how much safer flying is compared to driving, I’ll stay on the ground.

  21. swalve says:

    @cde: No, explosive fuel + oxygen + ignition = explosion. Not an engine doing the turbofan equivalent of throwing a rod.

    Southwest and the FAA are very good at their jobs. Terrified passengers complaining on the internet are not reliable accident reconstructionists.

  22. swalve says:

    @BigNutty: Way to use your brain, monkey.

  23. ToddBradley says:

    I’m sure engine failure on a commercial airplane is a scary thing. But I seriously doubt the passengers were in any real danger. Though I don’t design commercial airliners, I’ve got a BS and an MS in aeronautical engineering. That airplane was designed to (A) fly with one engine gone and (B) keep the meat separate from the fan blades even in case of catastrophic failure. And believe me, those safety features are not only rigorously designed, but tested and tested again.

  24. barco says:

    swalve, Kerosene is not explosive. Do you see burn marks anywhere on that engine? there isn’t even fuel in that section anyway, the burn cans are more toward the rear. It was just a mechanical failure in the compressor. aircraft are designed to be able to fly on one engine, they can even climb and gain altitude.

    stupid people live in fear.. so they’ll never fly again, even though they landed safely? brilliant! they can shut down their own lives all they want, I’ll just stay informed and educated.

  25. faust1200 says:

    @TMurphy: There are instruments that measure vibration in the engines. So it could have easily started as a vibration that the passengers couldn’t feel. There’s a certain limit of vibration that’s within spec for the engine. I don’t see where Southwest was lying.

  26. Adam Hyland says:

    Because it makes sense for a multi-million dollar company to issue a press release that says “OUR damn engine exploded” in order for the release to better match reports of passengers who by and large STILL feel that flying is more dangerous than driving.

  27. huadpe says:

    The report also says “engine sustained unknown damage.” My bet is that the verifiability requirements for FAA reports are pretty high, and therefore they’re only putting in the parts they know to be true. Also, even a catastrophic engine loss shouldn’t down an airliner, at 25000 feet they should hopefully be able to make it to an airport. Transoceanic would be alot scarier.

  28. cde says:

    @swalve: An explosion does not need to be chemical or fire-based in nature. Too much pressure in a container = explosion. The Violent and unintentional ejection of a major piece of an item = explosion.

  29. stormyk says:

    I am stunned at the level of fear and ignorance expressed here. I cannot even begin to refute every single wrong bit of info, but the big items: engines fail (sometimes very impressively) and airliners are DESIGNED TO FLY ON ONE ENGINE!!! We train for this every year, because out in the real world they just don’t fail very often. If this scares you, take the bus.

  30. n301dp says:

    Engines are designed to adequately protect the passengers from an uncontained fan blade failure. Notice that shards didn’t go anywhere near the cabin…they were very lucky.

    Giving a hyperventilating person pure oxygen from a bottle is about the worst thing one can do…

  31. calpchen says:

    To the casual observer, a turbine blade failure will look and sound like an explosion of the engine.

    However, the FAA is concerned about accurate technical descriptions in its reports, and technically, the detachment of turbine blades while in motion is not an explosion.

  32. Chese says:

    Those FAA reports are very preliminary so to argue over the wording of it is silly. This is considered an incident not an accident but that is because of faa definitions. I do not think explosion is the proper term for what happened here. The proper term would be uncontained fan blade failure (most likely) which the engine designers account for and is actually tested for in engine certifications. Check out this video [www.youtube.com] to see how they did it for the A380. Now this is just a fan blade failure. If you have say a bearing failure then it could be more than the case can handle. Blade failures are very serious and have caused accidents/deaths in the past but I think in this case the damage doesn’t look to bad. There will likely be extra inspections and possibly ADs because of this.

  33. Boberto says:

    @P41: UA232 was a near replica of this incident with exception to the fan blade on 232 going into the fuselage and ripping through all primary and redundant hydraulic control lines. The fan blade on this SW flight went to the outer and away from the plane.

    UA232’s fan blade failed due to a QA issue at the point of manufacture.

  34. swalve says:

    @cde: Still wasn’t an explosion because by your definition there wasn’t a container in which there was too much pressure. Ejection, perhaps. Explosion, no.

  35. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    Sound like they understated it, but I also doubt the casual passenger understands what they saw and the extent of its meaning. Some people think they are going to die when the cable tv signal goes out for 10 minutes… Lets get some testimony from the passengers that didn’t think it was a big deal.

  36. ElizabethD says:

    You and me both. At least on the ground when something goes wrong… you’re on the ground. Not falling from the sky.

    While this incident may not have involved an explosion, I think to call it “vibration” is pretty ridiculous. At the least, an engine housing was shattered or ruptured and parts flew out at high speed. So glad it ended well.

  37. Buran says:

    @swalve: Thank you. You’ve got it right. No matter how much the posters arguing with us may want this to be an explosion, it wasn’t.

  38. Buran says:

    @ElizabethD: Actually, that’s how this sort of thing gets started — vibrations where there shouldn’t have been any. And since reports about things like this discuss what went wrong in the first place, the report says there were vibrations.

  39. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    @stormyk: Absolutely correct. The Airframe is supposed to contain most of the damage from a “catastrophic failure”, and and explosion or detonation is technically an extremely rapid expansion in volume (normally a gas by-product of the material used and the high amount of heat produced) at supersonic speeds.

    Sorry if that did not translate correctly, it the closest as I could do since English is my second language.

  40. Buran says:

    @Hyland: It’s not. Driving is many times more dangerous than flying.

    People who think flying is more dangerous are crazy considering you barely need any “training” to be licensed to drive, but you get tested much, much, more and go through much, much more training to get a pilot’s license.

    If people want to be able to make that claim, then how about fixing those licensing and testing requirements for driving?

  41. Buran says:

    @rioja951: That was perfect. Your English is fine.

  42. vastrightwing says:

    Where’s William Shatner when you need him? (This is not a Star Trek reference)

  43. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    BTW, before anybody tries to say terrorist, I spent my time before going civilian in the army, sure i was not in the demolition squad but got the basic explosives training.

    Damn, those were good times, too bad my instructor said I had a disturbing love for things disappearing in big balls of fire. Maybe that why I was not allowed to train for and work in EOD.

  44. bwohlgemuth says:

    Relax people, an engine failure is not the end of the world. And if the blade would have hit the cabin, it would have probably hit the baggage compartment. The chances of a blade hitting the cabin are probably 1 out of 36 (probably a 10 degree arc which could have hit the passenger cabin). And it wouldn’t have been explosive….

  45. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    I can’t blame the passengers for being scared to death; I would have been as well. However, the harsh reality of it all is that every time you step on an aircraft (or into an automobile, or an elevator, or anywhere, for that matter), there’s always a very small chance that you will be killed. Accidents happen and will continue to do so, no matter what steps we humans take to prevent them.

    If you follow the external link, you can see the pictures of the engine. Clearly the turbine is missing a number of vanes, and probably whatever hit the turbine and whatever shrapnel was generated exited the left side of the engine housing. It was also noted that the spinner was missing (the cone that sits on the end of the turbine shaft), so perhaps that either came loose or was dislodged by debris and got “eaten” by the turbine vanes.

    As far as the description of the accident as “unknown vibration”…do you really expect the first description of the incident to be “catastrophic engine failure” before the engine has even been inspected and the NTSB investigation completed? I think not.

    Stuff happens…sometimes really bad stuff..but there’s always the usual rush to blame it on somebody, even when nobody is at fault.

    I think the Southwest crew that got the plane down in one piece should be commended.

  46. louv says:

    @BOBERTO said: “UA232’s fan blade failed due to a QA issue at the point of manufacture.”
    Failures are NOT the result of a QA issue. A failure (or situation that might cause a failure) is not caused by inspection. The failure might have been missed in an inspection, but it can’t be caused by inspection. Engines are unlikely to be affected by Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.
    (oh, I suppose if the “inspection” used a big hammer to check the blades like a tuning fork, then, yeah, maybe QA caused the failure: whack! whack! Sounds good. ship it.)

  47. Trai_Dep says:

    My worst flight (outside of storms: wheeee!) was when a jet was on approach then as we were about a hundred feet off the ground, the jet turned (a lot) on its axis, then pitched the other direction, then its nose pointed towards the sun and all four engines roared (loudly) and I felt VERY heavy.

    Unnerving. To say the least.

    Did the approach again and everything went to plan. Asked the flight crew what happened on the way out and the pilot smiled and said, “We felt it was better to make a second pass at the approach since (I honestly forgot why, it was that mundane).”

    > What’s a heart-pounding experience for passengers is something barely worth a mention for a well-trained crew. They’re pros, let them do their job with a minimum of whimpering and armchair quarterbacking, please.

  48. Pylon83 says:

    You know, you and I disagree on nearly EVERYTHING that is posted on here, but in this case, I whole-heartedly agree with you.

    The “outrage” related to this is absolutely absurd. There was no “Explosion”. A fan blade failed, and came out of the engine cowling. Nothing “Exploded”, the fan blade was simply ejected from the engine, which caused the outer cowling to shatter. Further, the FAA’s report is likely based heavily on the pilots initial report. They felt a vibration when the blade failed. and reported it. They certainly didn’t report “the engine exploded”. That being said, what do you people think happens when you have a circle of metal blades spinning at 20,000 RPM’s and it starts to vibrate a little? Parts come off.

  49. Jen_DZ says:

    I was a passenger on this flight and I wrote about our experience- I really didn’t think my words would be such a controversy. When I wrote about the incident, I didn’t know that this would be a big story and get so much attention, I just wanted to let someone know that this was not just vibration like it said on the FAA site. I give total credit to the awesome pilots that we had on that flight because they landed that plane with no further incident. But try to imagine being up 25,000ft, relaxing and then you hear what sounds like an explosion and then the plane is making loud “rattling” noises and you can feel it in the plane. We didn’t know what was going on, we could see holes in the engine and the plane was shaking so badly.
    I don’t know anything about airplanes and I’ll be the first to admit that but when you hear and see fear in the attendants then you know that this is not good. I hope this doesn’t happen to someone else because as much as I will try to act like this won’t bother me the next time I fly, and I will fly again, then that would be a lie.
    All I wanted when I wrote about my experience is that people knew that this was not a small incident and we are lucky that whatever flew out of the plane went out and not toward the plane because we were sitting right over the engine and may not be here. All I know is that if this could be prevented from happening again and maybe next time being fatal, then I’m glad that this is making people talk but don’t criticize my feelings because as well as these pilots are trained, you were not on that plane.

  50. badgeman46 says:

    This is much ado about nothing, at least the griping about the discrepancy in the reports. The FAA, as a federal agency obviously has deep pockets. This makes it the first and easiest target for lawyers when something goes wrong. As a result of this, most reports are worded in such a way that just the facts are presented, with no objective adjectives. Just technical facts. Since there was no explosion, the report will reflect that fact. Yes the engine did come apart, and that is a failure. If you look at NTSB reports you will see how the FAA and NTSB talk. In plain english usingjust the facts. Here is an NTSB repot of the exact same situation where the fan blades entered the cabin and killed two passengers.


  51. AD8BC says:

    Two words.

    Shit happens.

    Air travel is still a whole lot safer than car travel.

  52. Boberto says:

    @louv: If they could recover the fan blade from a cornfield and examine it closely enough to conclude a manufacturing defect, then why on Earth couldn’t they do that during the production process?

    What am I missing here?

  53. KJones says:

    Chicken George and the neo-convicts in the Whore House have been crippling government agencies for the benefit of businesses and profits – the FDA, EPA, OSHA and many others.

    Why should it surprise that they’re doing the same to the FAA when it was the Putz administration that cut the budget for levees in New Orleans despite warnings from the Army Corps of Engineers?

  54. KJones says:

    I forgot to say: They’re placing political toadies into administrative positions, compromising the integrity of the agencies.

    Sorry for the double post.

  55. GatorDrew says:

    I agree.

  56. barco says:

    If you look at the pictures on the linked blog.. you’ll see that a blade was probably not even ‘ejected’.. the blades that broke off probably just went straight through the turbine and out the exhaust. The intake cowling around the engine is ripped away, because the engine suffered extreme vibration, not because blades hit it.. it looks like a structural panel just broke off and was ‘banged’ through the exterior cowling because the engine was shimmying around quite a bit.

    If a blade goes through the exterior cowling, it will probably be a pretty small hole.. and if you notice, the actual engine casing itself is not compromised anywhere.. also, a blade will NOT fly forward at the aircraft’s operating velocity.

    The blade(s) were not thrown, they went out the back.. the engine contained the damage, as it was designed to do.

  57. swalve says:

    is that in fact a picture of the incident, or did COnsumerist just publish a photo of a plane with a hole in it?

  58. ChristopherDavis says:

    On UA232, it wasn’t the fan blade that failed, it was the fan disk which broke apart. A fatigue crack, caused by a flaw in the titanium ingot, went undetected (even though it should have been caught) and resulted in the failure. (The fan disk is such a critical part that it’s made from a solid piece of titanium.)

    While you can’t see it very well in those pictures, 737s don’t have a window where they normally would at the point where the engine fan’s rotational plane meets the fuselage. In a 1973 accident on National Airlines, a DC-10 fan assembly failed. A piece of debris struck the window, causing it to separate from the aircraft, and a passenger was ejected through the window.

  59. Buran says:

    @trai_dep: There probably was another aircraft on the runway. Happens more than it should, and a pilot will do an abort if that happens. Could have been other things too – maybe the pilot didn’t feel good about his approach. Starting over is a good idea if there’s doubt.

  60. NickRB says:


    Sorry, but that is still not an explosion, but I see how that mistake could be easy to make. A container under pressure that suddenly releases it’s internal pressure is referred to as Rapid Decompression. An explosion does indeed require fuel, ignition and oxygen. Many people and dictionary’s mistakenly label other events explosions.

  61. Topcat says:

    @Jen_DZ: I don’t think anybody here is discounting the fact that any sort of engine trouble or big bang on an airplane during flight is absolutely terrifying, but they are saying that hysteria breeds hyperbole. This wasn’t an explosion, and the engine performed as it should have and contained the failure. The pilots were trained well enough to handle the situation, (though the flight attendants weren’t) and the plane was landed safely. The inference that Southwest’s report is misleading seems false: it’s a problem that could very well have been caused by intense vibratory stress. It’s also definitely not a “fatal engine failure”, as to be fatal, it would have had to resulted in death.

  62. Kevin Kuzia says:

    @KJones: Gee, such a thoughtful post. Glad to see we have people on here thinking so clear. (ugh)

    As someone who works for a jet engine manufacturer, I am glad to see there are people on here who are not just being alarmist about this kind of incident. There is an incredibly high amount of scrutiny involved with the FAA/EASA and other international flight safety and administration organizations. That someone would even suggest that public safety is being ignore or compromised is incredibly foolish.

    Think about it – Despite the incredibly high safety record of air travel, there is absolutely nothing that can be more of a public relations disaster than something going wrong in-flight, especially with an engine. This is why there is such a high degree of inspection, testing and maintenance performed on them… but events will happen and it’s great to see that the flight crew handled it so well.

    For those people who would still rather drive, let me ask you this: Would you rather have a highly trained pilot guided by air traffic control systems (which while not perfect, are still pretty darn good) ferrying you about in the event something went wrong? Or would you rather have something go wrong on a highway where half the people are on their cell phones, applying lipstick, text messaging, etc. etc.?

  63. kidgenius says:

    Guys, I’m a safety/reliability engineer for a major aerospace firm. This was not even “Catastrophic”. There are different levels associated with different events on an aircraft. Catastrophic, Hazardous, Major, and Minor are the levels. Catastrophic would mean the loss of the aircraft and loss of life. So, this is not a catastrophic event. At best, it’s a “Hazardous” event, but it may not even qualify as that and may go down as a “Major” event. What you have here is a loss of one or more fan blades. Nothing more, nothing less. The engines are required to undergo testing in the event that something like this has happened. Now normally, this engine cowling is supposed to contain the debris, and in this case it was an uncontained failure. It was far from an explosion. Also, as another poster pointed out, there are no windows that lie in the same plane as the fan blades, in the event that an uncontained failure occurs. One or more of the blades came off, go sucked through the engine thereby damaging it beyond the point at which it could operate. Nothing “blew up”. Was this a fairly terrifying event for those on board? Absolutely, but you have to understand that the FAA (and others) cannot be reactionary and make statements like “OMG!!!! THE PLANE BLEW UP AND EVERYONE ALMOST DIED!”. First, it would be a false statement, and second, it would cause undue concern amongst airline passengers. Stuff like this happens, but the aircraft are designed to withstand these failures, and more. The fact that you see the aircraft on the tarmac after a safe landing with no injuries to any passengers or personnel on board, it is a testament to how safe flying really is. These aircraft are designed extremely well, and must undergo some of the most rigorous testing that you can imagine.

  64. sethom says:

    I don’t see the Kevlar? There is usually Kevlar wrapped between the fan and shroud. Nonetheless, 30,000 RPM + metal + force = % of failure

  65. pshah says:

    @KJones: Well said :)

    @Kuz: If I could drive to my destination and get there as fast as I could in a plane I would prefer driving. Sure statistically there are less chances of things going wrong while flying but if something did go wrong I think chances of survival are higher while on the ground than in the air… Combine that with the crap attitude of people involved in the process, it would be a no brainer….

  66. pshah says:

    @kidgenius: Catagorize as you wish… it only reinforces the point that its not something that “just happens, so what”

    All your experience says that “Normally engine cowling is supposed to contain the debris.” But it did not… so it wasn’t just run of the mill event… you are contraditing yourself when you say otherwise

  67. Nighthawke says:

    The engine’s design did what it was supposed to do to protect the rest of the vehicle and it’s occupants.
    There is a hardened armor band around the compressor assembly, just behind the first stage impeller that you can see to prevent any lethal events. The cowling shattering like that is a byproduct and from the picture, not fatal or disastrous. If you have seen test footage of an engine detonation like this without the cover, you will see the banding preventing the blades from flying about, just smaller pieces like tubing, fasteners and wiring. This event, though an exciting experience for the poor pax, was controlled from time 0 to shutdown and the securing of the engine.
    Considering the safety record of the airline and it’s aircraft, this was pure chance and can be put down as as unexpected major event. Southwest will most likely have the engines of similar model, age and hours operating checked thoroughly to make sure that this was just that, chance.

  68. Coder4Life says:

    They should be just glad that htey made it down safely and no one was hurt.

    things do happen to planes but those pilots deserve a big credit and everyone should be thanking them for handling such a situation so well.

    As for the flight attendant yeah its their job to be calm, but they are human beings too. They have family and stuff and are worried about things too.

  69. Kevin Kuzia says:

    @pshah: You certainly will get no arguments out of me re: the people involved in the process. lol

    But I think the point you are making in your “What if something happened…” scenario is a little off with the comparison you draw. I am not sure I would agree that you have better chances on the ground if something happened, especially in light of how much more often things on the ground occur. If you take that piece of the equation out, it is not really a fitting comparison. Things that happen thousands of times causing deaths (just in the U.S. alone) in comparison to the very few incidents that cause any fatalities worldwide makes flying a no brainer to me.

    Also, I feel a lot safer taking transportation that is safety checked and inspected before every flight. Lord knows no one does that before driving their cars. :)

  70. Kevin Kuzia says:

    @sethom: The kevlar is mostly up around the fan blades towards the front of the engine. This looks like something more towards the middle with an airfoil (blade or vane) letting go or (to use the industry term), “liberating”.

  71. kidgenius says:

    @pshah: What I was trying to point out was that many of the passengers, and some here, are blowing out or proportion what they perceive to be the FAA’s lack of concern. What I was trying to provide is the side of why the FAA may not show great concern in this case. Will they investigate, sure. If they find something will action be taken, of course. But the FAA is not going to cause a panic over an event which, in the end, did not result in the injury to any passengers or crew. Also, this was not even a “close call” where a cover-up is trying to be performed. There are provisions in place to handle an event such as this, and the pilots acted accordingly. The pilots did what they were supposed to and the aircraft did as it was designed. I apologize if I appear to be callous to this, but it’s not that big of a deal. The engine did not “explode” and passengers did not almost die. Some of the passengers, and some here, are needlessly freaking out about it.

    Now, IF when this containment event occurred some debris flew towards the fuselage, and IF a piece of this debris came through the fuselage despite the fact that the fuselage in this region is designed to deal with this scenario, and IF a passenger’s safety was put at risk, THEN there would be something to really discuss if the FAA was taking the same approach. But, THAT scenario did not happen, and as such we can look at the pictures, say that it is an interesting event, and move on.

  72. LilKoko says:

    @DallasDMD: and @P41: I thought that picture was from a stock photo source and not this flight. Am I wrong?

  73. LilKoko says:

    Wait . . . just checked the linked article. Yep those are the real photos! They actually let non-officials take those photos — which then got posted on the ‘net?

  74. Buran says:

    @boberto: The fact that once something goes wrong you have the benefit of hindsight to tell you that you missed something. So you look harder for what you now know to be there.

  75. Buran says:

    @LilKoko: You do realize that nearly every cell phone has a camera in it, right? And that people will take pictures of things that interest them, right? Good luck finding every single one of those cameras or censoring someone who has one. Once it’s out, it’s out.

    We need to realize that citizen journalism (and this can be argued to fall into that category) is going to make public things that were always swept under the rug before.

  76. rioja951 - Why, oh why must I be assigned to the vehicle maintenance when my specialty is demolitions? says:

    @kidgenius: Even if there had been loss of life, the FAA and all other concerned parties that have to invetigate will, and I repeat WILL, issue their report as if they were machines. Cold and redacted as if they did not give a damn.

    Trust me, when you want a truly objective report, the investigators will try to be desensitized while carring out their assingment, they rage about all other factors once they finish.

  77. ghinckley68 says:

    As a aerospace eng let me say this.

    1. That engine did not explode nor did it come apart in any that would damage the aircraft.
    2. If you look the fan disk while it looks horrific, for this kind of failure it is actually in good shape.
    3. the fan disk that holds the blades shows no signs of damage(now it is probably no longer air worthy) the stators behind that blade show some dings but not that many.
    4. If you look, the containment shield around the fan disk is intact as it should be since the fan disk did not fail.

    So first the engine is just not that badly damaged it will probably be repaired and put back in to service. And southwest will probably fly the plane to the repair depot in that condition.

    Most probably something came apart further back like a oil pump or some machinery like that, since that is the area were they are on that engine, and debris went into the fan blade.

  78. Archteryx says:

    @trai_dep: It sounds like the plane hit a hard crosswind, or perhaps a downdraft, and missed the approach. The high pitch, sharp engines-up and high-g are pretty typical for a big plane’s missed approach. Missed-approach maneuvers are one of the earliest things you get trained in, so yeah, the crew was pretty well prepared.

  79. rolla says:

    damn, thats some scary shiet…

  80. asdf456 says:

    I don’t blame the passengers for thinking it was an explosion, even if it wasn’t. There’s a video on youtube called ”A380 Blade Off Test” where the engineers deliberately fail a blade while the jet engine is at full power, to test if the engine casing will contain the shrapnel. Shortly after 3:10 in the video, you can hear the LOUD boom that follows.


  81. skinny2 says:

    No doubt the pax and flight attendants would be scared, even though to someone that understands aircraft this isn’t that big of a deal. The fact that a flight attendant hyperventilated is testament to the fact that this kind of stuff just doesn’t happen often! There are pilots that fly their entire careers without experiencing an engine failure off the ground.

  82. Angus says:

    @TODDBRADLEY: “keep the meat separate from the fan blades”

    Okay, that’s a funny way to put it, but that’s probably some Engineer humor there… :-)

    To further explain what you mean, I believe there is some armor-like plating on the inboard side of the engines. If blades start flying around, the main concern is to protect the main fuselage from damage – you’d probably WANT the rest of the blades to rupture the cowling. You certainly don’t want them rattling around throughout the rest of the engine causing potentially more damage.

    So, the fact that this incident was “uncontained” is probably a design feature. Kind of like some cars will drop their engine on the ground in a head-on crash. It’s better to have the engine on the pavement than in the lap of the driver/passenger.

  83. Javert says:

    @Buran: Statistically speaking, flying is safer by numbers. But if you break the statistics down by miles traversed, they actually come out pretty close to the same. [www.meretrix.com]

    Sorry if any of you did not like flying but clung to the promise of it being safter than driving.

  84. ghinckley68 says:

    This was not an uncontained failure look at the photos that thick metal band around the fan is the containment shield. If you look it is not even scratched. The fan disk did not come apart and all the fans are still attached to it. Granted not all of them but thats just it. Other than blade damage which as I said earlier was probably just the result of some other failure, that engine is not in that bad of shape. Hell Ill bet that thing probably will still start and run.

  85. Smackdown says:

    1) I wish I could fly with some of you frequent fliers/engineers/pilots. You make me feel (no, seriously) way better.

    2) If that had happened on my flight I am pretty sure I would have given birth to a shit baby.

  86. Kevin Kuzia says:

    @Javert: There’s just one problem with those statistics: None of them are for major commercial air travel. Those numbers apply to general aviation (i.e. non-commercial and non-military flights) and so are not terribly applicable in this situation. There are far fewer incidents with major commercial air traffic than there would be with “smaller planes” (especially given the quality of pilots by comparison).

  87. L_1049 says:

    @Angus: Kind of like some cars will drop their engine on the ground in a head-on crash. It’s better to have the engine on the pavement than in the lap of the driver/passenger.

    Most aircraft actually have this feature too. In the case of an engine fire or any engine trouble, if serious enough, the engine and pylon are meant to fall off. Having the engine fall off cleanly is better than destroying the leading edge control surfaces of the wing. You’d end up in a similar situation as American flight 191 if the engine damaged the wing (or any) control surfaces.

    Also I have to sort of giggle at the overreaction passenger account saying “if the blade entered the cabin it could have caused a crash.” While it could have been fatal for someone sitting near the engine (National Airlines Flight 27) it probably wouldn’t cause the aircraft to crash. I’d be more worried about engine debris damaging control surfaces on the wings and stabilizers.

  88. pcloadletter123 says:

    On SWA 420 departing LAX 12/5 for Oakland we experienced a significant “bump” at 1-3 minutes after takeoff, felt like we hit something (bigger than a bird, smaller than a brinks truck), after about 2 minutes pilot announced we “blew an engine” and the plane returned to LAX. Passengers on right side reported a burst of flames over the engine. Everyone stayed calm. Curious if this is the more “routine” lost engine or something more serious a la this November incident. Southwest crew handled the incident perfectly, smooth landing, good communication, got us on a new flight within about an hour despite bad weather delays in the bay area.