Southwest Airlines Flight 1380: What Caused the Engine to Fail?

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A preliminary investigation into an engine that exploded on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 as it soared 32,000 feet in the air showed evidence of “metal fatigue,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported.

The flight was bound to Dallas from New York’s LaGuardia airport on a twin-engine Boeing 737 April 17, when a woman was killed after nearly being sucked out of a window that crashed open due to debris from the failed engine.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt gave his first media briefing, which you can watch above, regarding the incident the evening of the tragedy. He stated, in part:

NTSB investigators arrived in Philadelphia at about 4:30 this afternoon to begin our investigation of the engine failure and fatality of an onboard passenger on Southwest Flight 1380. We deal with a lot of things like this and it’s never easy, and we want to offer our sincerest condolences to the family and friends of the woman whose life was lost today, and also we recognize the passengers and crew onboard that airplane have gone through a lot as well, and we’d like to offer our thoughts and prayers to all of those.

We’ve brought a team of specialists with specialty in power plants, airworthiness to look at the airworthiness of the aircraft itself, power plants will of course be looking at the engine. We have specialists in survival factors operations, and in Washington we have our recorders experts as well as folks that will be looking at the maintenance records of this particular airplane.

Here’s the factual information that we have at this time:

Southwest Flight 1380, a Boeing 737-700 departed LuGuardia at 10:43 a.m. destined for Dallas Love Field. The flight up to the point of the engine failure was routine. Approximately 20 minutes after takeoff as the aircraft was passing through approximately 32,500 feet, multiple aural alerts and warnings sounded in the cockpit. The crew donned their oxygen masks and they reported to air traffic control they had a number one engine fire and they were operating single engine and they were initiating an emergency decent. They requested vectors to the nearest suitable airport and were promptly vectored, cleared directly to the Philadelphia National Airport…now at about the same location as the event unfolded, later someone found a Southwest Airlines engine cowling at Burnville, Pennsylvania.

Our specialists immediately focused on a missing fan blade. So of course as you look in the engine from the front of the airplane there are 24 fan blades that of course normally rotate, and they help bring air into the engine. One of the fan blades, the number 13 fan blade was separated and missing. And it was separated at the point where it would come into the hub. So there’s a hub and then the fan blades attach to the hub. So this fan blade was broken right at the hub, and our preliminary examination of this was that there’s evidence of metal fatigue where the fan separated.

We located that immediately and sent photos to our materials in Washington. And so that is what the preliminary exam has found. There’s much more to be done on this.

The NTSB will hold another media briefing at 4:30 p.m. April 18. This article will be updated as information becomes available, please check back.

Read on about Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot being hailed as a hero who bravely flew the flight to safety:


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