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Southwest cancels 300 flights to inspect planes after fuselage cracks open on Sacramento-bound flight

April 2, 2011 | 10:21 am

Southwest Airlines announced it was canceling hundreds of flights Saturday as inspectors look at their jets after a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento suffered a rapid loss of cabin pressure due to a hole in the top of the fuselage.

"Southwest expects to cancel approximately 300 flights today to accommodate the inspections," the airline said in a statement. "Customers may experience sporadic delays of up to two hours on some flights today. Customers should check the status of their particular flight or rebook their trip on southwest.com before heading to the airport."

Southwest said inspections involve 79 Boeing 737 aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating, and Boeing is assisting in the inspections.

Officials said the inspections would last several days, and that they were looking for any indications that other planes were suffering from "aircraft skin fatigue."

In the Friday incident, Southwest said a flight attendant suffered a minor injury during the steep descent, but no passengers were hurt on 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 pressure.

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.

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

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.

Photos: Hole opens up in plane during flight

More than a dozen Southwest Airlines flights at LAX canceled

Passenger describes 'sunroof' opening up during flight

--Michael Finnegan and Shelby Grad

Photos: Associated Press