NTSB: Cracks Found in Three Southwest Planes

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Three more Southwest Airlines jetliners have small, subsurface cracks similar to the ones suspected of playing role in a Boeing 737-300 aircraft losing pressure and forcing an emergency landing Friday, officials say.

Since the incident, which started with a tear in the fuselage, Southwest has grounded its 79 other Boeing 737-300s and began inspecting them. 

Sunday night, another Southwest Boeing jet was diverted, this time because of a burning electrical smell in the passenger cabin, Southwest and Los Angeles International Airport officials said. The plane landed safely and no one was injured.

In its statement on the inspections, Southwest said Sunday they discovered two more planes to have cracks similar to those in the stricken aircraft. Those planes will be evaluated and repaired before they are returned to service.

A National Transportation Safety Board member told The Associated Press later that a third plane had been found with cracks developing.

Checks on the remaining jets are expected to be completed by late Tuesday, the airline said. Around 600 flights were cancelled over the weekend and more are expected until the planes are inspected and return to service.

"What we saw with Flight 812 was a new and unknown issue," Mike Van de Ven, Southwest executive vice president and chief operating officer, said. "Prior to the event regarding Flight 812, we were in compliance with the FAA-mandated and Boeing-recommended structural inspection requirements for that aircraft."

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said that the rip was a foot wide, and that it started along a joint where two sections of the plane's skin are riveted together.

"Up to this point only visual inspections were required for 737s of this type because testing and analysis did not indicate that more extensive testing was necessary," Sumwalt said.

That will likely change after Friday's incident, he said.

Meanwhile, to the dismay of many travelers, hundreds of flights have been cancelled or delayed because of the inspections.

"It's bad enough we get jammed up as it is, let alone get caught up for maintenance problems," said disgruntled airline passenger William Meyers.  

Airline officials hope to wrap up inspections on Tuesday.

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