Airlines Question Problems with Older Aircrafts

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Airlines now wonder if there could be problems with the metal used in older aircrafts, after a hole suddenly ripped open in the passenger cabin of a 15-year-old Southwest 737, Monday.

If the football-sized hole turns out to be the result of metal fatigue, it could mean tough inspections for older aircrafts at all U.S. airlines.
    
Continental Airlines has already inspected its older aircraft like Southwest's 737, but inspectors aren't sure what caused Monday's scare.  It could also have been the result of corrosion, a scratch or accidental damage during maintenance.

The gash was enough to prompt an emergency landing in West Virginia.  The jet was headed from Nashville to Baltimore.

"You heard a boom," said passenger John Forcino.  "Jet smoke kind of filled the cabin and airbags deployed."    

Passengers were busy taking cell phone videos and photos during the scary ride down from 30,000 feet.

"We kept going further and further down and we could see the trees and we were thinking, 'where are we going to land this big plane,'" recalled passenger Erin O'Donovan.

Everyone donned oxygen masks and the crew eventually brought the 737 in for an emergency landing at the Charleston, W. Va., airport.
 
"These people on this airplane don't know how lucky they were," said former National Transportation Safety Board member John Goglia.

Goglia explained the tear could have quickly ripped wide open --like in the case of an Aloha Airlines 737 some 20 years ago.
    
That event led to mandatory inspections to look for the kind of fatigued metal or corrosion that can cause such a disaster.
    
The recent emergency landing could mean more trouble for Southwest.  The airline's reputation was already damaged when a $7.5 million fine was given last year for failing to make necessary inspections for cracks.
    
Once the inspections were prompted, the airline found cracks in six of its planes.

After Monday's incident, Southwest quickly inspected all 180 of its 737 aircrafts and said zero cracks were found.

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