Earlier this month, a mid-air engine explosion caused a Southwest Airlines flight on its way from New York to Dallas to make an emergency landing in the city of Philadelphia. While the pilot has been hailed as a hero for her ability to bring the plane down while under such immense pressure, the explosion resulted in the first fatality in Southwest Airlines’ 51-year history, and the first commercial airline death on a U.S. based carrier since the year 2009. The explosion sent shrapnel and debris flying into the cabin, which struck several passengers, causing minor injuries to many others.
While many people are breathing a sigh of relief that the incident could have been much worse were it not for the swift and skilled actions of the flight crew on board, the incident raises questions of what caused the accident and who is going to be held liable for it. Southwest Airlines is certainly going to have a lot of questions to answer over the next several months while the National Transportation Safety Board completes a thorough investigation.
At latest update, investigators have said that it’s too early to have any certainty as to what was the ultimate cause of the explosion, but they are suspecting that an “undetectable crack” in an important component could be the culprit. Robert Sumwalt, the Chairman of the NTSB, stated that a crack on the inside of a fan blade may have caused the blade itself to fail and shred in midair, causing the explosion. A crack of such nature would be “certainly not detectable from looking at it from the outside,” he told reporters.
Investigators have said that the crack was consistent with signs of a condition known as “metal fatigue” which essentially means the metal had become weak after repeated amounts of stress and use, sort of like how continuing to bend a piece of metal back and forth eventually causes it to become loose and finally snap.
Was Southwest Airlines Negligent?
Will Southwest Airlines be held liable for the accident? It’s certainly possible—airlines have a duty to ensure their passengers are as safe as possible, and that includes regular maintenance and thorough inspections after each flight. That means Southwest had a duty to inspect the engine and discover the fatigued metal in the fan blade before takeoff. Microscopic cracks such as the one the NTSB suspects can be found with X-ray and ultrasonic inspections, which Southwest had apparently scheduled for December for that particular aircraft.
However, all indications point to Southwest having conformed with manufacturer specifications and NTSB requirements when it comes to the frequency of these particularly detailed inspections. By all accounts, early indications are showing no signs that the airline made a mistake that caused the issue.
We’ll have to continue to wait and see, but it’s looking more and more as though this was a genuine accident in which nobody was really at fault. Southwest probably will bear some degree of responsibility for the incident because of the duty of care they are legally required to provide, which means injury victims and the loved ones of the passenger who lost her life may be able to hold them accountable. However, only time will tell to what degree this is possible.
In the meantime, air travel in the United States continues to be on a remarkable run in terms of safety. As stated previously this was the first fatality for a U.S. based carrier in almost a decade. While accidents had occurred over that stretch, there were nothing more than minor injuries that came out of any of them, showing just how far air travel has come in terms of control and safety—even in the face of weather patterns that can occasionally make takeoff, landing, and control difficult.If you have been injured as a result of an aviation accident, get help reviewing your rights by contacting the Waterbury injury attorneys from Fitzpatrick Santos Sousa Perugini, P.C.! Contact us today by dialing (203) 583-8299.