NTSB: ‘Metal fatigue’ seen in blown Southwest engine

NTSB: ‘Metal fatigue’ seen in blown Southwest engine
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The blown engine of the Southwest Airlines plane that left one woman dead as it was forced to make an emergency landing had “metal fatigue,” National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a Tuesday evening press conference.

“Our preliminary examination of this was that there’s evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated,” Sumwalt said in Philadelphia. 

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Sumwalt said parts of the engine were “missing” and that an engine cowling was discovered in Bernville, Pa., which is about 70 miles north of where the plane made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport on Tuesday.

The fan blade, Sumwalt said, “was separated at the point where it would come into the hub." 

The flight had 144 passengers onboard, including a woman who died from injuries sustained when a piece of the engine shattered a window, leading to her being partly sucked out of the aircraft.

Following the incident, the NTSB announced a go-team would dispatch to Philadelphia to investigate. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines said it will speed up inspections for the CFM56 engines.

“The accelerated inspections are being performed out of an abundance of caution and are expected to be completed over the next 30 days,” the airline said in a statement. “The accelerated checks are ultrasonic inspections of fan blades of the CFM56 engines.”   

Sumwalt said he spoke with Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, who assured the chairman that the airline will conduct inspections on its fleet. 

“He has told me that Southwest will immediately begin enhanced inspections procedures involving ultrasonic inspection,” Sumwalt said. “They will begin that and plan to have that on their entire fleet conducted very soon.”

The safety agency uploaded photos showing the damaged engine as investigators looked at the aircraft.

The plane had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York Tuesday morning, flying at 32,500 feet toward Dallas Love Field Airport when the cockpit received multiple alerts.

The aircraft had been operating on a single engine when it made the emergency landing in Philadelphia, where the crew requested emergency vehicles be waiting for the plane's landing.