US airline grounds planes after mid-air hole scare

Hotel News - 04/04/2011

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American airline Southwest has grounded 79 of its airliners, forcing hundreds of flights to be cancelled. The move came following a dramatic incident in which a large hole appeared in the roof of a plane’s cabin, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing.

The plane, a Boeing 737, experienced a rare failure of part of the fuselage that left passengers and cabin crew with a view of the sky outside. The plane was put in a steep descent to reach a lower altitude, where breathing is easier.

The plane made an emergency landing in Phoenix. Of the 118 passengers and crew only one person, a cabin attendant, suffered a slight injury in the incident.

Investigators say the incident was not related to terrorism. They have so far failed to determine what caused the rupture. The hole led to the cabin pressurisation failing, so oxygen masks were deployed to assist breathing until the plane reached a safe altitude.

Flight 812, which was headed to Sacramento in California from the Arizona city of Phoenix, landed without further incident. The 15-year-old Boeing 737-300 is the oldest of its type in the airline’s fleet but the carrier said the plane’s maintenance and certification was full up-to-date.

Witnesses have described hearing a large sound and then seeing a hole about three feet long appear in the roof of the cabin. Passengers could see wiring and bits of insulation around the hole.

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