12-Inch Skin Crack Forms Mid-Flight On Southwest Boeing 737

Federal authorities have launched an investigation to uncover the cause of a crack which developed in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 mid-flight on Monday. The crack led to a gradual loss of cabin pressure and forced the pilots to make an emergency descent.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 was forced to descend after a fuselage crack caused a slow decompression. Photo: Bill Abbott via Flickr

Earlier today, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it is investigating a crack in the fuselage of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737.

What happened?

On Monday, the aircraft in question was travelling from Las Vegas, Nevada to Boise, Idaho when the crew detected a loss of cabin pressure. According to reports by ABC News, the crew began a rapid descent from 39,000 feet to 22,000 feet in the space of 6 minutes when the air pressure drop was detected.

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After the aircraft had completed its descent to 22,000 feet, the cabin pressure issue was resolved, allowing the aircraft to continue to its flight to Boise without further incident.

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No passengers or crew sustained any injuries. According to Southwest Airlines spokeswoman, Michelle Agnew, “The aircraft did not incur a rapid depressurization, masks were not deployed, and the aircraft did not require a diversion to maintain safety of flight.”

The post-incident investigation

Upon landing, the aircraft was inspected at a maintenance facility. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a 12-inch crack was discovered in the skin of the aircraft, just behind the cockpit. Southwest Airlines says the aircraft is currently being repaired.

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Southwest Airlines Boeing 737
The FAA is investigating the cause of the crack. Photo: Quintin Soloviev via Wikimedia Commons

At the moment, the exact cause of the crack is unclear, but there are a couple of different possibilities that the FAA is considering as part of its investigation. The first is that Southwest Airlines did not follow correct safety procedures during routine aircraft inspections. If the aircraft’s exterior skin was not inspected within the 1,500-flight guidelines, the crack may have escaped detection and developed to the extent seen in Monday’s decompression.

A second, less likely possibility is that the crack is the result of a manufacturing flaw. If this is the case, the crack could have caused a much more serious incident if it were any larger. A rapid decompression could easily have ended in catastrophe, which is why the FAA is eager to get to the bottom of the incident.

Similar incidents in the past

As reported by Fox 5 New York, Monday’s incident isn’t the first time Southwest has experienced issues with the fuselage skin of its aircraft. In fact, there have been two other similar incidents in recent years that have brought Southwest Airlines under scrutiny for its maintenance procedures.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737
Southwest Airlines has experienced similar issues in the past. Photo: Tomas Del Coro via Wikimedia Commons

In 2011 a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 experienced a particularly concerning incident when a five-foot hole opened up mid-flight. This incident was also attributed to cracks in the aircraft’s fuselage, similar to those discovered in the aircraft involved in Monday’s incident. However, the 2011 incident was much more serious, forcing the aircraft to make an emergency landing rather than just descending to a lower altitude.

Depending on the outcome of its investigation, the FAA may recommend that the inspection schedule guidelines for fuselage cracks on the Boeing 737 be reduced to fewer than 1,500 flights.

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Martyn

Does anybody know the age of the aircraft looked at other reports and nothing is mentioned ?

John

Southwest is quickly losing the trust of the flying public between shoddy airplanes and making their bed with the MAX. Any poor fortunes is wholly deserved.

JFP

Is WN doing these inspections in-house here in the U.S. under FAA supervision or offshoring the work to an “FAA Inspected” MRO facility?

Dan S

From 2002 to 2012 I worked at the BUF airport. Everyday I’d see SW 737’s arrive at the gate with multiple stress plates riveted to the fuselage. Especially along the passenger windows. A stress plate here or there wouldn’t bother me but some of these planes, I thought looked outrageous.… Read more »

Steve

A third possibility is that it was missed because it was so small, or wasn’t there during the inspection.

Hyatali Ali

I would like to know if the c***k was associated with internal corrosion of the skin.

Paul

Being simplistic…I have never liked the 737 series. I don’t like the way they fly or land, I don’t even like the way they look. I would pay premium to fly 757 or 767 (or competent Airbus).

Timothy McBride

Most of these statements are so dumb. That could happen to any of the plane series flying today! ANY, not just the 737. These parts do fail you know. Landings,G force, and corrosion do effect these units over time! This is why aircraft inspections, and maintenance are required. So don’t… Read more »

Tom Guerriero

SWA is smiling an folksy, but they are skimping on maintenance.

John Grant

I found it deeply disappointing that the speaker at the Kitty Hawk display did not know about the DH Comet and the enormous contribution that enquiry made to understanding stressed skin behaviour. The consequences of fuselage problems at altitude are known and fuselages must be rigourously inspected…….?

Daniel Pemble

Hi! I worked in product support as a Customer and Field Service Representative for 40 years supporting our commercial aviation Customers at sites around the world. Guess what? Airplanes with major aluminum structural components and exterior skins do in fact experience cracks from time-to-time; for skin cracks, this is almost… Read more »