PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines Co will speed up inspections of all related engines out of extra caution, the airline said, after a passenger was killed when an engine on one of its planes exploded and broke apart mid-air.
Southwest Flight 1380, which took off from New York bound for Dallas with 144 passengers and five crew members aboard, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday after an engine on the Boeing 737-700 ripped apart, killing bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43.
Southwest said it was accelerating its existing engine inspection program and conducting ultrasonic inspections of fan blades of the CFM56 engines on all of its the 737 jets.
The airline said it expects to complete the inspections within 30 days. Minimal flight disruptions may result, it said.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said on Tuesday at the Philadelphia airport that a preliminary investigation found an engine fan blade missing, having apparently broken off, and that there was metal fatigue at the point where it would normally be attached.
Sumwalt said the investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.
In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.
Flight 1380 took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport at around 10:27 a.m. and was diverted to Philadelphia about 20 minutes later.
The engine on the plane’s left side threw off shrapnel when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurization that nearly pulled a female passenger through the hole, according to witness accounts.
One passenger was taken to a hospital in critical condition and seven people were treated for minor injuries at the scene, Philadelphia Fire Department spokeswoman Kathy Matheson said.
Riordan’s death was the first in a U.S. commercial aviation accident since 2009, according to (NTSB) statistics.
Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a Wells Fargo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
She was on the way back from a New York business trip, where she had sent a tweet on Monday showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan with the caption: “Great business stay.” Her Facebook page shows she was married with two children.
Editing by Peter Graff