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Pilot: What happened on that Southwest flight

No one can deny the tragic consequences for one particular passenger on board Southwest Flight 1380. Nor can one deny...

Posted: Apr 19, 2018 1:11 PM
Updated: Apr 19, 2018 1:11 PM

No one can deny the tragic consequences for one particular passenger on board Southwest Flight 1380. Nor can one deny the terrifying chaos that must have been part of the scene in the cabin Tuesday morning when the left engine self-destructed, throwing shrapnel into the fuselage. Quite frankly, the situation should never have occurred. Why?

The Boeing 737-700's engines are designed to contain its parts and not shed them outside the engine cowl. (The cowl is the surrounding enclosure, analogous to an automobile's hood.) The current speculation is that metal fatigue from one of the numerous fan blades that rotate at incredibly high RPM was the culprit.

It's a mystery why the fan blade was not contained in the engine after it broke off.

The fan blades are the first stage in the process of creating thrust in a jet engine. Which means that a piece of metal was sent smashing through almost the entire machine, decimating more engine parts along its path, similar to the result of throwing a pen through a typical cooling house fan. The entire engine became unbalanced, shaking itself into pieces.

A fan blade crack is almost invisible, impossible for a pilot or aviation mechanic to detect via a visual inspection on the ground. Fan blades are attached to discs that spin around a central shaft in various sections called stages, most of them not visible even when peering directly into a jet engine. Mechanics use an "ultrasonic test," which requires special instrumentation. Southwest's procedures for inspection will be reviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The triumph amid the tragedy in this event is the response of the crew. An engine failure is a scenario that airline pilots practice for as a routine on every recurrent training session. That being said, the Southwest pilots were faced with multiple emergencies. Not only did an engine failure occur, but so did an explosive pressurization event as a result of the cabin being punctured by shrapnel. Air was being expelled rapidly from the airplane.

In addition, the leading edge of the left wing was peppered with pieces of engine parts, which most likely created some type of abnormal flying characteristics. Fortunately, the characteristics did not prevent a successful landing in Philadelphia. As a precaution against potential flight control issues, the crew landed with fewer flaps than on a normal approach, resulting in a higher speed for landing.

What would have been happening in the cockpit during this emergency? The pilots most likely heard an explosion of sorts and then felt a vibration. They would have immediately checked their engine instrumentation and realized they had a problem. It's important to note that the wings, and thus the engines, are located beyond the pilots' field of vision from the cockpit, so it's impossible for a pilot to see or know exactly what occurred. A call from a flight attendant in the cabin would have confirmed the specific nature of the problem.

In this circumstance, judging by the fact that the captain's voice was heard on the radio, the copilot's duties would have been to begin the severe damage checklist, which involves, among other things, shutting down all fuel to the engine. The captain would have been flying the airplane and talking on the radio with air traffic control, declaring an emergency. This is a trained division of duties between pilots, with the non-flying crewmember focusing on checklists while the other crewmember focuses on flying the airplane.

When the pilots realized that the catastrophic engine failure was accompanied by a pressurization issue, they would have begun the memory items involved with that particular checklist. The priority with an explosive pressurization event is for the crew to don their oxygen masks and then rapidly bring the airplane down to an initial habitable breathing altitude of 10,000 feet, using flight control devices on top of the wings called speed brakes, which are designed to reduce lift.

Speed brakes are often used as part of normal operations for descents, deployed in smaller increments. They do create some buffeting vibration, which may have been magnified for the passengers on Flight 1380, as some indicated.

With a rapid loss of cabin pressure, the oxygen masks deploy automatically. As a side note regarding passenger oxygen masks, remember the briefing from the flight attendant that instructs you to "place the mask around your nose and mouth?" Do it, please. Photos of the cabin on Flight 1380 indicate most passengers were just holding the yellow cup to their mouth. You can't get the full benefit of breathing without using your nose. Enough said.

The calm, cool and collected voice of the captain is a testament to her experience and her training. Both pilots deserve accolades for their performance, as do the flight attendants handling the trauma in the cabin. Yes, this was a tragedy, but it was triumphantly handled by professional aviators. Kudos to all involved, including the passengers valiantly assisting the woman who unfortunately did not make it, and the air traffic controllers that expedited the emergency to a successful landing.

And finally, credit will be due shortly to the parties in the NTSB investigation. They will follow the clues to find the reason for this event, to prevent it from ever happening again.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1560117

Reported Deaths: 20796
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2118112563
Lake1021301523
Allen964791027
Hamilton75541551
St. Joseph66476761
Elkhart51045634
Vanderburgh50511531
Tippecanoe45721338
Johnson39600527
Hendricks37933463
Porter35132476
Madison30330547
Clark27296331
Vigo26401347
Monroe24100249
LaPorte23921313
Howard23237381
Delaware22453370
Hancock19314220
Bartholomew18980216
Kosciusko18400204
Warrick17733216
Wayne16982303
Floyd16686257
Grant15966300
Morgan15091232
Boone13924138
Dearborn12235113
Shelby12225152
Noble12170142
Henry12027202
Dubois11696152
Marshall11625171
Jackson11111104
Cass10578143
Lawrence10529221
Huntington10523140
DeKalb10482132
Gibson10114127
Montgomery9671144
Harrison9471117
Knox9415125
Whitley902571
Steuben8934105
Putnam8542100
Miami8533135
Clinton849397
Jasper8462116
Jefferson8319127
Wabash8027140
Ripley7504117
Scott685787
Adams6829103
Daviess6825130
White638184
Greene6317112
Clay628975
Decatur6261121
Jennings619781
Wells6090121
Fayette6054122
Posey580148
LaGrange549097
Randolph5364129
Washington528071
Owen5211100
Fountain493681
Spencer467456
Sullivan462066
Fulton450993
Orange449784
Starke448887
Rush433941
Jay432564
Perry409155
Carroll394749
Franklin394650
Vermillion370762
Pike334246
Parke331239
Tipton330475
Blackford282255
Pulaski281775
Brown239856
Newton239761
Benton228921
Crawford224932
Switzerland207914
Martin196722
Warren183922
Union178119
Ohio129216
Unassigned0763

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2515949

Reported Deaths: 31987
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2719422100
Cuyahoga2606673087
Hamilton1758091756
Montgomery1177451651
Summit1089011418
Lucas935321193
Butler83907963
Stark771001431
Lorain64214809
Warren53428489
Mahoning51224930
Lake47591611
Clermont46928452
Delaware41107220
Trumbull39746790
Licking38790416
Medina38646427
Fairfield35828349
Greene34313435
Portage32429366
Clark32361453
Richland29653444
Wood29379301
Allen25875403
Miami24243408
Muskingum23564255
Columbiana23046409
Wayne22093365
Tuscarawas19637428
Marion18616235
Erie18608224
Ashtabula18569362
Scioto18159214
Ross17594260
Pickaway16419181
Hancock16115232
Geauga15511229
Lawrence15094186
Belmont14236248
Union1419584
Huron13908184
Jefferson13656261
Sandusky13268200
Athens12877107
Knox12160201
Seneca12055204
Darke11440202
Ashland11248184
Washington11152172
Auglaize10873147
Crawford10432178
Shelby10402160
Brown10094145
Highland9746151
Fulton9726154
Guernsey9683122
Defiance9567137
Logan9470147
Clinton9428132
Mercer9099112
Madison9032111
Preble8524170
Williams8305138
Putnam8069136
Champaign8040113
Ottawa7971123
Jackson7848121
Perry7514102
Coshocton7411136
Morrow729184
Fayette715992
Pike666689
Hardin6564133
Gallia638891
Adams6227127
Van Wert6065121
Henry602596
Hocking5918105
Wyandot503594
Carroll5009101
Holmes4880167
Paulding426465
Meigs400974
Monroe316468
Harrison299162
Noble296952
Morgan292748
Vinton258646
Unassigned08
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Huntington
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 18° Lo: 8°
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Decatur
Mostly Cloudy
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Hi: 19° Lo: 14°
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Van Wert
Cloudy
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Feels Like: 8°
The coldest air of the season filters into the region Tuesday night into Wednesday.
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