Southwest Searching for Answers

Inspections, metal durability, structural flaws all concerns after accident

Metal fatigue and inspection oversight are coming into focus as the causal identities for a harrowing accident aboard a Southwest Airlines flight Tuesday that left one passenger dead and traumatized 148 others in a required emergency landing.

Preliminary concerns are focusing on the aircraft’s engine, specifically the fan blade and cowling (covering for the engine’s fan).

Southwest Flight 1380, which was en route from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas’ Love Field, was forced to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International airport following a fault with one of its CFM56-7B engines. This is the first fatality due to an accident on a U.S. airline in more than nine years, and the first in Southwest’s history.

What concerns many is the revelations of inspection oversight and that this type of engine failure happened on a previous Southwest flight in 2016. Both are key indicators of a preventable situation.

“It happened not on an old airplane but on a Boeing 737, the reliable mainstay of daily domestic flights around the country and the world,” wrote Dominic Gates of the Seattle Times.

National Transportation Security Board officials inspect the damaged engine of Southwest flight 1308 in Philadelphia on Tuesday.—AP photo

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Robert Sumwalt detailed the first of many post-crash inspections of the damaged engine on Tuesday, immediately yielding some alarming results. He revealed that one of the titanium blades on the big fan had broken off at the root, and that there was evidence of metal fatigue at the site where it broke. Metal fatigue occurs from continued stress and usage of metal structuring material, causing numerous small cracks that are vulnerable to midair fracturing. Constant testing of the durability of this type of metal is considered crucial to safety.

“There are supposed to be inspections to look for potential cracks,” Sumwalt said. “There need to be proper procedures in place to inspect for them.”

Sumwalt also said the inlet cowling that surrounds the fan was found on the ground in Bucks County (PA) about 60 miles from the airport.

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