— Joe Marcus (@joeasaprap) April 17, 2018
A woman on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas died after being partially sucked out of the window of the Boeing 737 on Tuesday morning. A failure in the left engine triggered a rapid decompression of the aircraft cabin. The woman’s father, Todd Baur, told a reporter that other passengers pulled his daughter back into the aircraft. But she later died from her injuries.
In a video posted on Facebook, passenger Marty Martinez who was seated a few seats away from Baur’s daughter wears one of the drop down oxygen masks which deployed when the cabin pressurization was lost. The crew made an emergency landing at Philadelphia.
Something is wrong with our plane! It appears we are going down! Emergency landing!! Southwest flight from NYC to Dallas!!
Posted by Marty Martinez on Tuesday, April 17, 2018
Southwest Flight 1380 was at 38-thousand feet when the CFM56 engine failed. At that altitude, the pressure within the cabin is about 8 pounds per square inch so logic would suggest that some part of the disintegrating engine penetrated the fuselage or the passenger window causing the rapid outflow of pressurized air.
At a news conference in Washington before leaving for the scene, Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said until investigators arrived in Philly, it was too early to draw the conclusion that the aircraft suffered an uncontained engine failure.
“Once we get there we may say, ‘parts came off the engine’, but they may not have been in that part of the engine associated with the protection region.”
But one can be sure that the investigation will review an airworthiness directive from the FAA last fall that required ultrasonic inspections of fan blades on the very model of engine on the Southwest 737. CFM engines are a joint product of GE Aviation and the French Safran Aircraft Engines.
Over the past two years, there have been several dramatic engine failures on U.S. aircraft. On a Southwest flight from New Orleans to Orlando in August of 2016, parts of the CFM engine separated, punching a five inch hole in the fuselage and causing a decompression. The plane made an emergency landing and none of the 104 people on board were injured. The investigation into the event is still underway.
Just a few months later, an American Airlines Boeing 767 was destroyed by a fire on the runway. The CF6, a General Electric engine failed as the plane was still rolling down the runway on departure. The pilots aborted the takeoff but a fire broke out, fed by fuel from a hole punched into the wing. Twenty-one people were injured. (You can see video from inside the cabin as passengers tried to evacuate, here.)
In its report issued earlier this year, the NTSB said that they’d discovered within the engine disk, “a subsurface defect” from the time of manufacture.
“From a metallurgy standpoint these are a very serious matter,” said Rich Giannotti, an aerospace engineer who reviewed the NTSB probable cause report. These defects, he told me “are hard to detect in the fleet, even using surface scan equipment. The question is obviously how pervasive is the issue.”
During his hasty news conference Sumwalt told reporters that the NTSB sees 3 to 4 engine failures a year and not just on U.S. aircraft.
Nevertheless, airplane engines are very much in the news these days as the Federal Aviation Administration has effectively grounded Boeing 787 Dreamliners equipped with Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 engines, about 25% of the fleet.
Once again, regulators are concerned about a design problem in the engines that may make them incapable of flying on long over water journeys. The airlines using the 787 for trans oceanic travel, which includes British Airways, Norwegian and Air New Zealand, will either have to swap the planes for different models that meet the criteria for extended over water operations or fly less direct routes that keep the airplanes closer to land. A spokeswoman for British Airways declined to provide details of how it will handle the issue with its nine 787’s flying to 13 trans-oceanic destinations.
Aviation stories are usually all about the airplane. How well if flies, how comfortable it feels and how economically it operates. We may forget that the planes are nothing without the engines. Southwest Flight 1380 makes it abundantly clear, when the engines go rouge, they can be killing machines.