One Dead After Southwest Airlines Jet Engine Explodes in Midair

A Southwest Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport today (April 17th) after one of its engines exploded in midair. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) confirmed that one passenger, a woman, was killed when debris from the explosion penetrated the Boeing 737-700 aircraft’s pressurized cabin, causing the aircraft’s emergency oxygen masks to deploy and sending flight attendants scurrying to assist injured passengers. In today’s post, our personal injury accident lawyer provides an overview of aircraft engine failure and the legal avenues that may be available to engine failure accident victims and their families.

Aircraft engine failure

Aircraft safety experts at both the FAA and the NTSB have long reported that many aircraft engine failures occur during takeoffs and landings. This observation is due to the fact that aircraft engines are more likely to fail when they are subjected to the most stress, such as “full power” on takeoffs and during landings, when engines may need to rapidly transition from relatively “lower power” settings to high power to control an aircraft’s rate of descent. Single-engine aircraft are, of course, at highest risk for catastrophic consequences of engine failure.

Engines that are used on commercial airlines are required to be constructed so that the engine housing is strong enough to contain any engine parts that may become projectiles in the event of an engine failure. Given the reports made by passengers on the Southwest Airlines flight, and photographs of the damaged engine, it appears that the engine suffered an unusually violent “decontainment” type of engine failure.

Decontainment engine failure on a commercial airline is indeed rare, but not unheard of. Recall that United Airlines Flight 232 crash-landed at Sioux City, Iowa, on July 19, 1989 after an “uncontained” failure of one of its engines disabled the aircraft’s hydraulic flight controls. 185 of the 296 passengers and crew members on board survived.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the engine that exploded on Southwest’s Flight 1380 was a model CFM56-7B. This engine is made by CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and French engine manufacturer Safran SA and is the only engine certified for use on the Boeing 737-700, an aircraft model that is used extensively by Southwest Airlines as well as by other U.S and international carriers. According to CFM International, the CFM56-series engines are among the most widely used commercial aircraft engines in the world. CFM also reports that its engine products are installed on some 6,700 aircraft and have amassed an excellent safety record during more than 350 million hours of worldwide flight time.

Preventing aircraft engine failure

The fact that the death on Southwest 1380 was the first death recorded on a scheduled commercial U.S. airline in 9 years, and the first death ever on Southwest Airlines, is testimony to the professionalism of commercial aircraft engine inspectors and the efficacy of FAA-mandated engine inspections. When coupled with regular inspections of airframes and avionics (instrumentation), as well as preflight visual inspections by an aircrew member, inflight engine failures on commercial airlines are rare.

The most effective method for preventing aircraft engine failure on both private and commercial aircraft is regular inspection of engines by individuals who are certified by the FAA as possessing the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to conduct such inspections. Inspection of individual components, such as engines, also benefits from mandatory reporting of equipment problems by engine manufacturers and engine inspectors to a central agency such as the FAA or NTSB.

How a personal injury accident lawyer can help those injured by aircraft engine failure

As noted in previous sections of this post, inflight engine failure involving commercial air carriers is rare. So rare, in fact, that such failures can often be traced back to a failure in the inspection process. While it is too early to assign a cause to the engine failure on Southwest 1380, it is reasonable to suspect that faulty inspection procedures may have played a role in that accident by failing to detect a structural defect that later caused the engine to fly apart.

UPDATE (4-18-18): FAA and NTSB inspectors reported that, based on preliminary visual inspection of the engine involved in the Southwest Flight 1380 accident, a compressor blade on the affected engine appears to have broken away from its shaft and that evidence of “metal fatigue” is present at the point where the blade would have joined the shaft. Metal fatigue may be considered evidence that there was a problem with the blade/shaft junction that had been developing over a period of time prior to the engine failure.

If you, or a family member, have been injured in an aircraft accident where engine failure is suspected, our aircraft accident injury lawyer invites you to contact us to arrange a free review of the facts surrounding your injury. Your initial consultation with our firm is always free and does not place under any obligation to retain us to represent you. Should you decide that we should represent you, we will handle all aspects of your case in return for a previously-negotiated percentage of the verdict that we will win for you.