Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Flight 812 Hole In Fuselage Report And Audio ATC Files

by Aviation News Reporter on July 7, 2011

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Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Flight 812 Hole In Fuselage

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Flight 812 Hole In Fuselage

MP3 ATC AUDIO FILES FROM FAA HERE

Audio recordings of communications between the pilot of a Southwest Airlines jet that ripped open in mid-air and air traffic controllers reveal the tense moments as the plane made a fast descent above Arizona.

A 5-foot hole tore open in the roof of the Boeing 737 as Flight 812 climbed to 34,000 feet on April 1. Recordings and transcripts released by the Federal Aviation Administration on Wednesday show the pilot quickly radioed to report a problem.

“Declaring an emergency descent, declaring an emergency. We lost the cabin,” the pilot says.

The pilot asked the controllers for permission to drop to 10,000 feet after the hole caused rapid decompression in the passenger cabin.

One of the controllers can be heard relaying the pilot’s request to descend to another controller. When the second controller hesitated, the first replied, “He’s doing it anyway.”

Onboard, 118 passengers grabbed their oxygen masks as the pilots pushed the plane down more than 20,000 feet in less than five minutes.

“We’ll, uh, turn to Phoenix and, um, we’ve got apparently we’ve got a hole in the fuselage in the back of the airplane,” the pilot says.

While the pilot made the harrowing descent, air traffic controllers scrambled to make sure there were no other planes in the path of the damaged jetliner.

The pilot changed his mind about landing in Phoenix and decided he needed to get the plane on the ground as soon as possible.

Pilot: “We need the nearest airport.”

Controller: “Southwest 812, are you able to land at Blythe or would you want to go to Palm Springs?”

Pilot: “Let’s make a turn and go to uh, how far away is Yuma away from us right now?”

Controller: “Yuma is in your three o’clock position. And 50 miles.”

Pilot: “We’ll take Yuma.”

The pilot guided the plane to a safe emergency landing, and there were no serious injuries.

Metal fatigue was initially suspected to have caused tiny subsurface cracks in the aluminum skin, which gave way during flight. But investigators later said the seeds of the near-disaster might have been planted when the plane was built.

Preliminary findings issued in April suggesting there may have been flaws in the riveting work when Boeing built the plane 15 years ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board said some of the rivets used to bind the Boeing 737’s aluminum panels together were sunk in holes larger than the rivet shafts. The holes weren’t lined up correctly and were misshapen, not round, the board said.

After the Southwest incident, Boeing told airlines that own about 190 other 737s built in the 1990s to immediately conduct electromagnetic inspections of an area of the roof called the lap joint, where overlapping panels of skin are riveted together.

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