published Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Airliner crash that didn’t happen!

Imagine that you were one of 118 passengers scheduled for a Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Sacramento, Calif., last Friday.

You were looking forward to a comfortable, uneventful flight. You settled into your seat and perhaps picked up a newspaper to read, or opted for a nap.

Then, as your Boeing 737-300 cruised at hundreds of miles per hour at 34,400 feet — a 5-foot-long hole tore open in the ceiling of the aircraft cabin, showing blue sky outside!

Your oxygen mask dropped from the ceiling as the pilots began a controlled but rapid descent — and landed safely at a military base!

Incredibly, no one was reported seriously hurt.

Whew!

But what happened?

Aircraft operate with changing air pressure at different altitudes. Maintenance examinations are regularly performed. But apparently there had been some undetected damage in the plane, possibly related to frequent pressurizing and de-pressurizing, and part of the plane’s skin “peeled.”

Then Sunday, a Southwest jet of the same type had a burning electric smell en route to San Diego. It landed safely. The cause evidently was unrelated to what damaged the first plane.

Jets of the type in question have properly been grounded, and safety inspections are under way.

It is amazing how many aircraft fly so many miles over many years with few lives lost. There are dangers, of course, not only in the air, but on the highways and in all forms of travel. These were potential air tragedies that thankfully didn’t happen.

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