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Southwest passengers recount harrowing ordeal as hole opens in plane fuselage

April 2, 2011 |  7:42 am

Hole400_lj0jjfncPassengers described a harrowing journey Friday when a Southwest Airlines flight from Phoenix to Sacramento suffered a rapid loss of cabin pressure, and the crew found a hole in the top of the fuselage.

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.

Southwest said a flight attendant suffered a minor injury during the steep descent, but no passengers were hurt on the aborted Flight 812.

But some passengers told various media organizations that the injuries were more serious.

Photos: Hole opens up in plane during flight

Several passengers told the Sacramento Bee that a flight attendant suffered a head wound and that he and several other passengers lost consciousness. Passenger Christine Ziegler, 44, told the Bee she could see the flight attendant was bleeding from the head.

The Boeing 737 landed safely at 4:07 p.m. at Yuma International Airport, according to the FAA. The pilot "made a rapid, controlled descent" from 36,000 feet to 11,000 feet after the loss of cabin pressurization.

The cause of the decompression was unknown, said FAA spokesman Ian Gregor.

Southwest Flight Diverted

"Just unreal. All of a sudden there's like a little explosion. Sounded like an explosion at least. All of a sudden there's a sunroof in the middle of the plane. A big, old hole. You see daylight running through it," passenger David Smith told KCRA-TV.

On her Twitter feed, Shawna Malvini Redden, who identified herself as a passenger on the plane, posted photos of other passengers wearing oxygen masks dangling from the cabin ceiling.

"Loss of cabin pressure, hands down the scariest experience of my life," she wrote.

Fire trucks from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma greeted the flight, but no rescue was necessary, said Gen Grosse, corporate account manager for the Yuma County Airport Authority.

But upon landing, "the flight crew discovered a hole in the top of the aircraft," Southwest said in a news release.

"You can see daylight through it," passenger Brenda Reese told KCRA. Reese also said a few passengers passed out when they had trouble getting oxygen from their masks.

Flight attendants were "amazing" in helping everyone out, she said.

Passengers said they cheered when the plane landed.

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Top photo: An image provided by passenger Christine Ziegler shows a hole in a Southwest Airlines jet. Credit: Associated Press

Bottom photo: Another image from passenger Brenda Reese shows the damaged plane. Credit: Associated Press

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