Southwest pilot reacted quickly to hole in roof

AP News
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Posted: Jul 06, 2011 4:53 PM
Southwest pilot reacted quickly to hole in roof

A Southwest Airlines pilot didn't wait around for approval from air traffic controllers before beginning an emergency dive after a hole ripped open in the plane's roof.

"We've lost the cabin," the pilot told controllers after the April 1 emergency. "We're starting down."

The pilot asked the controllers for permission to drop to 10,000 feet after the hole caused rapid decompression in the passenger cabin of the Boeing 737 as it cruised high over Arizona with 118 passengers and a crew of five.

One of the controllers on the dramatic audio recordings released Wednesday by the Federal Aviation Administration can be heard relaying the pilot's request to descend to another controller.

When the second controller hesitated, the first replied, "He's doing it anyway."

The pilot guided the plane to a safe landing at a military base in Yuma, Ariz. There were no major injuries.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident aboard the 15-year-old plane. Southwest grounded about 80 similar-vintage Boeing 737s for inspections, and found five others with cracks.

A Boeing Co. senior official said the aircraft maker had not expected cracking in that section of roof for several more years. The FAA ordered frequent inspections of many older 737s.

Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins said Wednesday that the hole in the Arizona plane was repaired and it is undergoing previously scheduled maintenance before returning to service later this month.

The air traffic control recordings provide a new look at the tense early minutes after the roof ripped open on the Southwest jet shortly after takeoff from Phoenix.

The pilot _ Southwest declined to identify him _ quickly declared an emergency and put his jetliner in a descent when its fuselage ruptured at more than 34,000 feet. Controllers scrambled to make sure there were no other planes in the Southwest jet's path as the pilot made the harrowing, four-minute descent.

The pilot began turning back toward Phoenix. Then a controller noted that the plane was 50 miles from Yuma.

"We'll take Yuma," the pilot responded quickly.

"OK, change of plans," another controller said. "Southwest (Flight) 812's going to Yuma now; he couldn't make Phoenix."

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Christie reported from Phoenix. Koenig can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter