A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 aircraft made an emergency landing at Yeager Airport, Charleston, WV today after a hole in the fuselage caused a loss of cabin pressure. The aircraft, operating as Southwest Flight SWA 2294, was en route from Nashville International Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Airport at the time of the incident. The crew diverted to to Charleston, where the plane landed at about 6PM local time. There were no reports of injuries among the five crew members and 126 passengers on board.
Reporting on the incident, the Charleston Gazette quoted a passenger from the flight:
"We heard a loud pop, and one of the panels [on the ceiling] was sucked up tight against the ceiling. You could definitely tell there was a hole there."The passenger described the hole as "about the size of a football," and said that a "piece of the roof was kind of peeled back."
Oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling, and passengers put them on. "The flight attendants did a wonderful job, walking back and forth and keeping everyone calm," he said.
The plane remained in the air for 20 to 30 minutes, [passenger] Hall estimated, before landing at Yeager. "It felt like a long time," he said.
A brief article about the incident on the WSMV.com web site included a photo of the hole, taken from inside the aircraft by a passenger. It definitely looks as though the hull was breached -- you can see daylight through the hole in the photo!
At this point, no one seems to know what caused the damage. Should more information become available, I will post an update here on Aircrew Buzz.
UPDATE: Another photo has emerged, via Twitter user @cjmcguinness. He says this photo was taken by his sister-in-law, who was a passenger on the flight.
A representative of Southwest Airlines has posted the following statement on FlyerTalk.com:
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES PROVIDES INFORMATION REGARDING FLIGHT 2294Thanks to Twitter user @danwebbage for providing the link to this statement.
Scheduled Nashville-Baltimore Flight Diverts to West Virginia
DALLAS, TX—July 13, 2009--Southwest Airlines confirms its flight 2294, the 4:05 pm Eastern scheduled departure from Nashville to Baltimore/Washington diverted into Yeager Airport in Charleston, W. Va at approximately 6:10 pm Eastern today after a cabin depressurization. All 126 passengers and crew of five onboard landed safely and are awaiting a replacement aircraft in Charleston that will take them to Baltimore Washington International Airport later this evening.
The aircraft cabin depressurized approximately 30 minutes into the flight, activating the passengers’ onboard oxygen masks throughout the cabin. Medical personnel in Charleston assessed passengers and no injuries are reported. Southwest is sending its maintenance personnel to Charleston to assess the aircraft, and the airline will work with the NTSB to determine the cause of the depressurization. According to initial crew reports, the depressurization appears to be related to a small hole located approximately mid-cabin, near the top of the aircraft.
UPDATE July 14, 2009: This morning the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an advisory announcing the dispatch of a team to investigate the Southwest Flight 2294 decompression incident. In that advisory, the NTSB identified the aircraft as N387SW. The FAA Registry data for that registration number lists the aircraft model as a Boeing 737-3H4, serial no. 26602, manufactured in 1994.
A new photo published by The Charleston Gazette shows an individual described as an FAA Inspector peering at the damage to the fuselage from outside the aircraft. In that photo, the damaged area appears to be at the crown of the hull, just forward of the empennage.
The track log for the accident flight on FlightAware.com, which is based on an FAA data feed, suggests that the aircraft was above FL340 ad climbing at about the time of the decompression, traveling at a ground speed of about 450 kts.
UPDATE July 16, 2009: The NTSB has released two photos of the damaged section of the fuselage of the Boeing 737-300.