Metal fatigue may have been part of Southwest Flight 1380's engine failure

Kelley Robertson
April 20, 2018

In a terse statement released Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said that it will issue an airworthiness directive (AD) within the next two weeks requiring inspections of certain engines like the one that blew up on a Southwest Airlines Co. "Although the number of fan blades requiring the inspection remains the same, the number of engines involved with this inspection has significantly increased", it said.

At an April 18 briefing, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said the fan blade separated in two places.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a tweet it was aware of the incident and was gathering information.

A spokesperson for the Calgary-based carrier said only a "small portion" of its aircraft have the engine fan blades now under investigation by the U.S.

Mr Sumwalt also said a casing on the engine is meant to contain any parts that come loose but, due to the speed, the metal was able to penetrate the shell.

The CFM56 is arguably one of the safest and most popular jet engines in the world, with more than 30,000 units produced since 1980, and it's used on both civilian and military aircraft.

"We may be seeing a new phenomenon involving engines as they get old", said Bill Waldock, an expert on aircraft accident investigations with the Embry Aeronautical University.

The GE-Safran partnership that built the engine said it was sending about 40 technicians to help with Southwest's inspections. NTSB officials have told stories about absent parties who were blamed in a probable cause finding because they were absent from the investigation, and it was politically easy to assign blame to an absent party.


On Tuesday, one engine on the plane disintegrated, spraying shrapnel that depressurised the plane and forced the pilot to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. A woman sitting next to the window was partially blown out of it. The airline said it was in the process of transporting them to the terminal and was gathering more information about the incident.

The way Captain Tammie Jo Shults handled the emergency has been applauded by passengers, but in a joint statement with First Officer Daren Ellisor, the captain shrugged off praise for their actions. Seven other victims suffered minor injuries.

"Injured passengers, OK, and is your airplane physically on fire?" an air traffic controller could be heard asking in a recording of the transmissions.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a window on the aircraft, nearly sucking a female passenger out.

That pilot has been hailed a hero for the way she handled that emergency situation.

"We pray for the repose of her soul and for her dear loved ones", church leaders said. "We're stunned. My heart breaks for Michael", Marianne Riordan said.

"The listed cause of death seems consistent with what we've heard in media reports", department spokesman James Garrow said, though he could not confirm the nature of her death. Bobby Laurie, a former flight attendant turned TV show host, shared the photo with a reminder of how oxygen masks should be properly worn. "Evidently the wrong person was taken from that flight", Dennis Miller said on Facebook in a posting that included colourful language to describe Martinez. And though Laurie didn't mention it in his tweet, many passengers appear to be holding their masks to their faces with their hands - another no-no, according to the in-flight instructions given to every passenger on every Southwest Airlines flight.

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