NTSB Calls for Plane Redesign in Response to Deadly Dallas-Bound Southwest Flight

The failed engine on Southwest 1380
The failed engine on Southwest 1380 National Transportation Safety Board
The National Transportation Safety Board ended its nearly two-year investigation into Southwest Airlines flight 1380 on Tuesday with a recommendation that Boeing redesign the engine casing on one of its 737 models in order to prevent incidents like the one that killed a passenger and forced a crash landing in April 2018.

NTSB officials blamed the jet's fan cowl, or cover, for failing after being hit by a cracked fan blade shortly after flight 1380 took off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport, headed toward Dallas Love Field. The cowl broke apart, and a piece of it struck the window adjacent to seat 14A.

The window broke, causing an immediate loss of pressure in the airplane's cabin. Jennifer Riordan was partially sucked out of the window. Passengers hauled her back inside, but she died from her injuries.

“This accident demonstrates that a fan blade can fail and release differently than that observed during engine certification testing and accounted for in airframe structural analyses.” — Robert Sumwalt

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“This accident demonstrates that a fan blade can fail and release differently than that observed during engine certification testing and accounted for in airframe structural analyses,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. “It is important to go beyond routine examination of fan blades; the structural integrity of the engine nacelle components for various airframe and engine combinations needs to be ensured.”

Boeing needs to redesign the fan casing to "ensure the structural integrity of the fan cowl after a fan-blade-out event," the NTSB said.

That redesigned cover should then go on all new 737s, the agency said, and be retrofitted to all 737 Next Generation series planes currently in use. The 737 Next Generation series is the model that came before Boeing's 737 Max, which has had numerous safety issues of its own.

No Southwest Airlines employee bears any responsibility for the crash, according to the NTSB.

“We look forward to reviewing the NTSB’s recommendations and working with the manufacturers to prevent this type of event from ever happening again,” the airline said in a statement to reporters. “We support the actions of our crews, and we remain forever grateful for their professional and heroic actions. Southwest will also fully support any regulatory changes that may further enhance aviation safety.”

Boeing said it is committed to preventing another incident like the one that happened in 2018.

"Safety and quality are Boeing’s top priorities and Boeing is committed to working closely with the FAA, engine manufacturers and industry stakeholders to implement enhancements that address the NTSB’s safety recommendations," the company said. "Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of Jennifer Riordan, who died from her injuries, with those who were hurt and with all of those on board. We are committed to doing our part in making sure an event like this never happens again."
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young