DALLAS (CBSNewYork/AP) — Inspections of jet engines at Southwest Airlines turned up one cracked fan blade last year but no others since last week’s deadly accident that investigators believe started when a weakened blade broke off during flight.
Southwest executives said Thursday that they have checked more than 25,000 fan blades since 2016 for signs of metal fatigue and the remaining 10,000 will be inspected by mid-May.
Meanwhile, audio of the episode posted to YouTube apparently captures the entire conversation between pilot Tammie Jo Shults and air traffic controllers.
According to the audio posted by ATC Memes, Shults can be heard calmly describing the crisis taking place on her plane.
“Southwest 1380 has an engine fire, descending,” Shults purportedly said. “Yes sir, we’re single engine, descending, have a fire, [engine] number one.”
They quickly settle on Philadelphia as the destination for the emergency landing. Air traffic controllers can be heard in the audio apparently moving other planes to make way for the emergency landing.
“We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” Shults purportedly said as they came closer to landing.
“Could you have medical meet us on there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers,” Shults purportedly said, before being asked again if her plane was on fire. “No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing. They said there’s a hole and someone went out.”
Shults was lauded as a hero for her calm performance under pressure.
Passenger Jennifer Riordan died in the incident after a piece of shrapnel from the engine apparently punctured the window next to her, partially sucking her out of the aircraft. Her husband Michael recently spoke out for the first time about the accident with CBS News’ Kris van Cleave.
“It’s the love affair that will never end. No one can take her from my heart and no one can take her from our family,” Michael Riordan said.
It was the first accident-related death of a passenger in the airline’s 47-year history.
“It was a dark day,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said at the beginning of a conference call with analysts and reporters. He called Riordan “an extraordinary person” and credited the actions of the crew and other passengers during the emergency.
Bookings have dropped since the April 17 accident and will cost Southwest between $50 million and $100 million.
Last-minute trips fell, but so did bookings into May. Southwest canceled some flights to send planes for inspections, and it stopped advertising on television and social media. President Tom Nealon said the airline’s advertising “has a lot of fun, and we just don’t think it’s appropriate yet to bring that back.”
Southwest disclosed the results of engine inspections and the downturn in bookings as it reported a 22 percent increase in first-quarter profit, to $463 million. The results were in line with Wall Street expectations.
Southwest has 35,500 fan blades for its fleet of more than 700 Boeing 737 jets. After a fan blade broke off and triggered an engine breakup in August 2016, the airline started inspecting other engines as engine manufacturer CFM International recommended, said Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven. Those checks turned up one bad blade in May 2017, and it was discarded, he said.
Since last week’s accident, 8,500 more blades have been checked and none was found to show signs of metal fatigue, or microscopic cracks, Van de Ven said.
Kelly said Southwest never considered grounding any of its planes because it was following inspection recommendations from the engine manufacturer. Van de Ven added that metal fatigue in the widely used CFM fan blades was seen as extremely rare.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)