Aviation Blog - Jay Ratliff

Aviation Blog - Jay Ratliff

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12 Fast Facts on Southwest 1380

Southwest Airlines 1380 April 17, 2018

First loss of life for a U.S. airline since the Colgan Air crash in Buffalo, February 12, 2009 where 49 passengers and crew, plus one person on the ground (total 50) lost their lives.  (Longest period of time without a loss of life in the history of U.S. commercial aviation.)

This is the first Southwest Airlines passenger to have been killed, even though Southwest was involved in a fatality on December 8, 2006 when a flight ran off a runway during a snow storm and killed a person/child on the ground.  (They have reported 2 passenger deaths that are not associated with a crash.)

The National Transportation Safety Board is initially calling SW 1380 an event of “engine failure,” but the evidence may lead them to classify it as an “uncontained catastrophic engine failure.”  These are very rare and occur only three to four times a year worldwide and you can see how rare when you factor in more than 100,000 flights operate commercially each day worldwide. 

Most engine failures occur during times of extreme stress on aircraft engines, during takeoffs.  It is extremely rare to see an engine failure while the engine is operating at cruise altitude, when the stress on the engine is less than at any other time during the operation of the flight.

The NTSB will spend great time examining the maintenance records for that particular engine and will eventually compare the findings to another Southwest Airlines engine failure event on August 27, 2016 (SW 3472) which occurred over the Gulf of Mexico.  This incident also was the result of an uncontained catastrophic engine failure, with no injuries reported, but debris did impact the fuselage.  Following the event, the NTSB did recommend that fan blade inspections take place with aircraft with operated the CFM56-7B Power Plant Engines (built by GE).  Initial findings are not conclusive on whether or not flight 1380’s engines were required to be inspected and, if so, whether or not the required FAA inspections had been carried out.

Following the autopsy report for the killed passenger, the NTSB will determine whether or not the passenger was wearing her seatbelt and will factor in whether or not that may have contributed to her injuries and death.

Many are asking if a person has ever been sucked out of a commercial jet window and it did occur in June of 1990 when the captain of  British Airways 5390 was thrown outside the aircraft during a sudden decompression.  The images of the pilot draped across the aircraft during flight while the crew fought to hold him through the emergency landing are extraordinary.  The captain survived.  The passengers aboard SW 1380 reacted in a similar fashion as they rushed to help their fellow passenger who (through initial reports) had a portion of her torso sticking outside the aircraft.

We have had passengers blown out of an airplane before, but not through a window but a large hole in the fuselage (other than a suicide bomber aboard a Daallo Airlines flight who blew himself out of the plane) when United Airlines flight 811 experienced an explosive decompression so severe that a large side section of the Boeing 747 blew off the aircraft, killing 9 passengers who were sucked out of the airplane.  (The cause was a faulty cargo door seal, but the flight crew was initially convinced a bomb had exploded, as this took place just two months after Pan Am 103 was blown apart over Scotland.  

The SW 1380 crew appear to have done an exceptional job in stabilizing the aircraft during the emergency and quickly decreased the altitude to under 10,000 feet as the passenger oxygen masks normally supply no more than 15 minutes of oxygen.  Once the aircraft is below 10,000 feet the O2 masks are no longer needed.

Although crews are taught how to easily land a stricken aircraft on only one engine, there is a chance the hydraulic system may have been compromised when the port engine failed.  The NTSB report may show the landing was much more difficult than originally thought and having the first female fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy at the controls of 1380 was a definite plus for every soul aboard.   The most famous commercial aviation landing of an aircraft with serious hydraulic efforts was United 232, which had an uncontained catastrophic engine failure forcing the flight crew to fly the aircraft only with the throttle – as they had lost all control of the flight.  It crashed in Sioux City, SD with 111 fatalities.  (Subsequent simulator runs of the emergency have resulted in no survivors, making the 185 people who survived a remarkable event.)

Metal fatigue will also be examined and the most famous event of metal fatigue occurred with Aloha Airlines 243, April 28, 1988 where a large section of the main cabin was tore off the Boeing 737 aircraft.  (This event changed commercial aviation in how it viewed metal fatigue, making flying even safer for hundreds of millions of passengers a year.)

Some have asked why the Philadelphia Airport had to be closed after the emergency landing, since it has more than one runway.  When an event such as this occurs closing the airport means emergency vehicles are able to reach the emergency area unimpeded by the restrictions which are in place when you have commercial flights arriving and departing.   It is proper protocol during an emergency situation such as this.

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