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Safety Questions Arise About Cracks Found In Southwest Planes

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WJZ general assignment reporter Mike Hellgren came to Maryland's News...
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LINTHICUM, Md. (WJZ) — It was a scare in the sky. Now many want to know what caused a massive hole to open in a Southwest jet.

Mike Hellgren reports on the investigation and the latest flight cancellations impacting BWI Marshall.

About 70 Southwest flights have been canceled across the country as the airline and federal investigators examine the fleet of Boeing 737s after the fuselage of one plane ripped open in flight. Inspectors found small cracks in three other jets.

BWI Marshall, a major Southwest hub, has more than 350 Southwest arrivals and departures daily. So far only about 5 percent of those flights have been impacted.

A hole opened in the fuselage at more than 30,000 feet on Southwest flight 812.

“All of a sudden, there was a loud bang, and the masks dropped, and it’s really, really windy, and your ears hurt,” said Shawana Malvin Redden, flight 812 passenger.

Southwest voluntarily began inspecting the oldest aircraft in its fleet of Boeing 737-300 planes, finding cracks in three more, leading to cancellations, including several at BWI Marshall.

“With me being in the air so much, I don’t want to be uncomfortable when I get on the airplane,” said Nate Adkins, Southwest customer.

“It’s still a safe mode of transportation. It’s one of the safest. It’s safer than driving in a car cross-country,” said Brian Nowotny, Southwest passenger.

The inspections found most of the planes were fine and cleared them to fly again, but questions persist about what caused the fuselage to rip open on flight 812.

“Unfortunately, we’re seeing a spate of a lot of incidents that need to be examined,” said Mark Rosenker, former NTSB chairman.

It’s not the first time this has happened.

In 2009, a hole opened on a Southwest flight bound for Baltimore on the same type of plane under scrutiny now. At the time, the Department of Transportation’s former inspector general talked about concerns over inspections.

“Some of the aging aircraft protocols that cover these inspections did not cover this particular part of the airplane, which is ridiculous,” said Mary Schiavo, former inspector general USDOT.

Southwest calls the problem “new and unknown” and wants to reassure customers it’s in compliance with all federal requirements.

“They’re dealing with it the right way, and I know they’re coming upfront and forward with it. And they’ll make the changes they need to make,” said Barbara Bonacquisti, Southwest passenger.

About 171 of Southwest’s planes are Boeing 737-300s. It’s an older aircraft that is no longer being manufactured.

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