Yesterday's uncontained engine failure and subsequent explosive decompression of the cabin resulted in the first fatality on a US-flagged air carrier in over nine years, and the first ever aboard a Southwest Airlines flight. (A six-year old boy was killed on 8 December 2005 when WN 1248 overran runway 31C after landing at Chicago Midway and struck the automobile in which he was riding.)
WN 1380 was scheduled to fly from New York's LaGuardia Airport to Dallas, operated by N772SW, a Boeing 737-7H4 delivered on 7 July 2000 and equipped with CFM Industries CFM56-7B24 engines. Just over 20 minutes after takeoff, climbing through an altitude of about 32,500 ft, the #1 engine suffered an uncontained failure. Initial examination by the NTSB found that the #13 fan blade (of 24) had broken off at the hub and was missing. Debris from the failure damaged a cabin window near the trailing edge of the wing, leading to the explosive decompression of the cabin and partial ejection of a passenger, Jennifer Riordan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who subsequently died as a result of her injuries.
The engine failure appears to be similar to one which occurred 20 months ago involving another Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-7H4, operating flight WN 3472 from New Orléans to Orlando which diverted to Pensacola after the separation of a fan blade in the #1 engine. There were no injuries in that incident.
Yesterday's accident also bears similarity to an accident on 3 November 1973 involving National Airlines flight 27 in which an uncontained engine failure caused a fan blade to rupture a cabin window which led to the ejection of a passenger.
Other accidents in which passengers and/or crew were ejected as a result of explosive decompression include United 811 from Honolulu on 24 February 1989 and Aloha 243 on 28 April 1988 which diverted to Kahului, Maui. NTSB reports on these accidents are included in the references.
Today's Featured Map shows the planned route of flight 1380 (blue) along with the path up until the engine failure near Bernville, Pennsylvania (red), and the diversion to Philadelphia (orange).
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Karl L. Swartz.
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