Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 Catastrophic Engine Failure

5/1 - Update: Possible May 8th Deadline for any Personal Injury Claims

Section 10(a) of Southwest’s Contract of Carriage contains a provision stating the following:

(1) No claim for personal injury or death of a Passenger will be entertained by Carrier unless written notice of such claim is received by Carrier within 21 days after the occurrence of the event giving rise to the claim;

(2) No legal action on any claim described above may be maintained against Carrier unless commenced within one year of the Carrier’s written denial of a claim, in whole or in part.

*Note: While it has not yet been determined whether or not this provision will be deemed enforceable, it is important for passengers to be fully informed of their options.


4/21 - Update: Read the newly issued FAA Emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD):
1. Sent to owners and operators of CFM International S.A. (CFM) Model CFM56-7B engines.
2. Refers to 4/20/18 CFM Service Bulletin describing procedures for performing ultrasonic inspection for cracks in fan blade assembly

"We are issuing this AD because we evaluated all the relevant information and determined the unsafe condition described previously is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design."


Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, a scheduled flight from New York, New York (LGA) to Dallas, Texas (DAL) suffered a catastrophic  engine failure on Tuesday morning.  Preliminary Investigation has revealed that the airplane’s left (no. 1) engine suffered a turbofan blade failure, which severely damaged the engine, the leading edge of the wing and then penetrated the fuselage, including a cabin window. Tragically, a passenger seated near the window lost her life.  While investigators have not yet determined whether the failure met the technical definition of an "uncontained" engine failure, the  undisputed facts show that components of the failed engine were thrown out of the engine at extremely high speed, causing severe damage to the airplane.

justin-green-cnn-southwest-airlines

Watch Attorney Justin Green with CNN's Brooke Baldwin on Southwest Airlines Engine Failure

Reports indicate that the aircraft experienced the engine failure approximately twenty minutes into the flight, as the plane approached cruising altitude over Pennsylvania.  When debris caused by the engine blade failure ruptured the airplane’s cabin, it caused the airplane to rapidly depressurize and its oxygen masks to deploy.  The pilots initiated an emergency descent and diverted to Philadelphia for an emergency landing. The female passenger seated next to the ruptured window was said to have been sucked partially outside before being pulled back in by nearby passengers.  The passenger later died at a local hospital.  Seven other passengers were treated for injuries.  Photographs and video of the accident aircraft depict catastrophic damage to the plane’s left engine and one passenger window, with additional damage to the left wing and fuselage.  The accident aircraft, a Boeing 737, was delivered to Southwest in July 2000.  The failed engine, a model CFM56-7B22, was manufactured by CFM International, a joint venture between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines. On April 20, 2018, CFM issued a new service bulletin caling for increased ultrasonic inspections of fan blades on long-service engines.

Attorney Dan Rose on MSNBC - Southwest Airlines

Watch Attorney Dan Rose with MSNBC's Katy Tur on Southwest Airlines Engine Failure

Though the NTSB did not discover any pieces of engine components inside the fuselage during its initial inspection, it is clear that parts of the engine caused the cabin and window to rupture.  The post-accident investigation will need to determine which specific parts caused the fuselage and window to rupture and what changes should be made to the airplane’s design to better protect passengers.  The NTSB also intends to investigate exactly how the defect in the fan blade led to engine failure, since, according to Chairman Robert Sumwalt, the crack was "certainly not detectable from looking at it from the outside."  Chairman Sumwalt further reported in a media briefing that the blade had broken twice, once where the blade attached the hub and again nearly halfway through it, and attributed at least one of the cracks to metal fatigue.

Southwest Engine Failures 2016 and 2018

Tuesday’s mishap was eerily similar to an incident that occurred less than two years ago involving another Southwest Airlines flight.  On August 27, 2016, Southwest Flight 3472 experienced engine failure at cruising altitude on its way from New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida.  The plane sustained immediate damage from debris striking its fuselage, wing and tail area, and was caused to suddenly depressurize. The flight was diverted to Pensacola, Florida, and landed safely with, fortunately, no injuries to passengers.  Although the accident remains under investigation, the NTSB’s preliminary report indicates that the plane’s engine failed when one of its fan blades separated from the fan disk mid-flight.  According to the report, the separation was likely attributable to metal fatigue on the fracture surface of the missing blade’s root.  Just as in Tuesday’s accident, the aircraft involved in the 2016 event was a year-2000 Boeing 737, while the accident engine was a model CFM56-7B24, manufactured by CFM International.

On August 25, 2017, almost exactly one year after the 2016 Southwest incident, the FAA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) for an Airworthiness Directive (AD) mandating ultrasonic inspections of certain CFM turbofan engines  after a fixed number of cycles. Airlines would be required to conduct the inspections within 12 months of the proposed AD’s issuance.  The proposed AD was intended to address an unsafe condition in the engines caused by manufacturing issues that had resulted in cracks appearing during forging of certain high-pressure turbine disks. In response to the proposed AD, Southwest submitted comments noting that they would need more time than recommended to conduct the inspections, estimating at least 18 months. The airline also suggested that they be given credit for previous inspections conducted on subject fan blades, and expressed concerns that the cost of the mandated inspections would be more than anticipated by the FAA.

While the 2017 AD is still pending, it remains to be seen whether Southwest has proactively complied with the proposed requirements or simply allowed their CFM56 engines to continue flying unexamined.  The FAA announced just yesterday that it plans to issue the AD within two weeks, in direct response to the Southwest Flight 1380 incident.  Subsequent investigations should examine why it took the FAA so long to issue the AD, with hopes that that this incident will prompt the FAA to be less deferential to the airline industry and act more promptly in the future.

Prior to Tuesday’s accident aboard Southwest Flight 1380, it had been over 20 years since a passenger had perished as the result of an uncontained engine failure aboard a commercial aircraft.  The last incident of its kind occurred on July 6, 1996, while Delta Air Lines flight 1288 was on a takeoff roll in Pensacola, Florida, for its regularly-scheduled flight to Atlanta, Georgia . As the plane accelerated down the runway at an airspeed of 40 knots, the aircraft experienced an uncontained, catastrophic engine failure in its (no. 1) left engine.  Debris produced by the failure was propelled through the left aft fuselage, killing two passengers and severely injuring three others. Alerted to the emergency, the pilots were able to bring the plane to a stop before the wheels left the runway.  The NTSB concluded that the fatal incident had been caused by a fracture in the left engine’s front compressor fan hub, which had gone undetected during Delta’s inspection process despite originating during the engine’s initial manufacture. Delta’s maintenance team was assigned partial blame for failing to locate the problem prior to the flight. The accident aircraft was a McDonnell Douglas MD-88 equipped with Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 turbofan engine. The two deceased passengers were revealed to be a mother and her 12-year-old son, while two of the severely injured passengers were the boy’s two siblings.

Seven years prior, on July 19, 1989, 111 passengers were killed when United Airlines Flight 232 crash landed in Sioux City, Iowa after experiencing catastrophic engine failure at cruising altitude . The McDonnell Douglas DC-10, powered by General Electric CF6 turbofan engines, was approximately one hour into its scheduled flight from Denver, Colorado to Chicago, Illinois, when a cracked fan blade in the aircraft’s rear engine suddenly disintegrated, causing the engine to fail. Resulting debris pierced the plane’s horizontal stabilizer and severed its hydraulic systems, cutting power to the plane’s autopilot and manual controls. With very limited control of the aircraft, the pilots diverted to Sioux City as the plane rolled to the right and descended rapidly. Barely managing to line up with the runway, the pilots impacted terrain with the aircraft’s right wing, causing the tail and cockpit to break off and the fuselage to flip over and careen to a fiery stop a nearby cornfield. Miraculously, there were 185 survivors, including both of the pilots and all but one flight attendant.

The NTSB blamed the crash of Flight 232 on "inadequate consideration given to human factors limitations in the inspection and quality control procedures used by United Airlines' engine overhaul facility, which resulted in the failure to detect a fatigue crack originating from a previously undetected metallurgical defect located in a critical area of the stage 1 fan disk."

The crash of Flight 232 spurred significant change within the aviation industry with respect to safeguards against the risk of uncontained engine failure.  Shortly after the crash, airworthiness directives were issued by the FAA to mandate the inspection of fan blades on the GE CF6 engine. After it was determined that the failed fan disk’s metallurgical defect had formed during the manufacture of the titanium alloy material used to create it, the manufacturing process for titanium was altered to eliminate the type of anomaly that had acted as the crack’s starting point.  Additionally, engine containment and testing requirements were imposed by the FAA to certify the safe operation of jet engines. The US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) was amended to require engine manufacturers to carry out at least two tests to ensure that an engine can survive a compressor, turbine, or fan blade breaking off inside it, without debris being propelled through its outside enclosure.

If Tuesday’s catastrophic engine failure is found to have been due to an uncontained fan blade failure, it will necessarily require enhanced fan blade inspection protocols and a review of the current containment ring design, testing and certification criteria to ensure such an incident is not repeated.

Previous Southwest Airlines cases

Southwest Flight 812 - Rapid Decompression of Cabin Due to Hole in Fuselage
Southwest Flight 2294 - Rapid Decompression of Cabin Due to Hole in Fuselage