Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 Windshield Shattered Above Utah

On Wednesday a Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 suffered a shattered windshield whilst flying from Salt Lake City to Seattle. Cracks appeared on the captain’s side window, leading the crew to return the aircraft to Salt Lake City, where it landed safely.

Delta Airbus A320
The Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 was flying from Salt Lake City to Seattle. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

On Wednesday a Delta Air Lines Airbus A320 registered N324US was forced to return to Salt Lake City International Airport around 50 minutes after departure when cracks emerged in the captain’s side window.

The 28-year-old Airbus A320 was operating flight DL-1268 from Salt Lake City International Airport to Seattle. According to reports by Salt Lake City’s local TV channel, KUTV, the flight took off at 6 p.m. local time and returned to Salt Lake City just before 8 p.m.

A replacement aircraft, registered N354NW, was drafted in to complete the flight from Salt Lake City to Seattle. The passengers eventually reached their destination seven hours behind schedule.

Delta Air Lines has shared its statement on the incident with Simple Flying:

“Delta flight 1268 returned to Salt Lake City shortly after departing due to a crack on the windshield. The flight landed safely without incident. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”

The Aviation Herald reported that the Airbus A320 which suffered the cracked windshield was returned to service 14 hours after landing at Salt Lake City.

Safety hazard or a minor issue?

Although it may sound like a spectacular emergency, broken windshields on commercial passenger aircraft happen fairly regularly. At least a lot more regularly than you might at first assume.

As most flyers are aware, aircraft fuselages are pressurized to keep internal conditions safe for pilots and passengers. Because the windows and windshield on an aircraft have to contain the internal pressure of the fuselage, it is vital that they are strong.

Delta Airbus A320
The aircraft landed safely back at Salt Lake City. Photo: Tomás Del Coro via Flickr

Similar to bulletproof glass, aircraft windscreens are made from a number of different layers sandwiched together to provide strength and durability.

These layers include reinforced glass, various types of plastic and even a thin layer of metal that conducts an electric current to keep the windshield free from ice.

These multiple layers act as a fail-safe in case of cracks, so it is rare for an aircraft windshield to fail completely. However, it does sometimes still happen, usually with dramatic consequences.

British Airways Flight 5390

Perhaps the most memorable case of an aircraft windshield failure occurred 29 years ago back in June 1990 on British Airways Flight 5390 as it flew from Birmingham Airport to Málaga, Spain.

The incident aboard British Airways Flight 5390 was actually not the result of a cracked windshield. Instead, it was the result of a badly-installed windshield, which failed because of misfitting bolts.

Once in the air, the pressure difference between the cockpit and the outside air grew too large for the bolts to remain in place. The windshield burst out of the frame, resulting in an explosive decompression.

The aircraft which flew British Airways Flight 5390. Photo: Rob Hodgkins via Flickr

As a result of the sudden pressure change, captain Tim Lancaster was propelled out the windshield frame.

Remarkably, flight attendant Nigel Ogden managed to grab onto Lancaster’s legs as the rest of his body hung outside the cockpit.

The aircraft was brought in for an emergency landing at Southampton airport. Lancaster was pinned against the outside of the aircraft for a whole 20 minutes and had started to develop frostbite from the cold, but he miraculously survived.

Luckily incidents resulting in explosive decompression are very rare, but flights still land for safe measure if they develop cracks on their windshields