Whether you fly Southwest Airlines or not, it was terrifying to hear about the passenger death occurred last month on that airline while the plain was mid-flight. Specifically, while in the air, the Southwest 737 engine failed, causing a blast the shattered a window and eventually killing one passenger.
Reports have indicated that a cursory inspection of the engine just two (2) days before this incident revealed that the engine seemed to be in perfect working condition. Robert L. Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”), said a blade in the engine had broken in two places — where the blade attaches to the main hub and higher up, approximately at the midpoint of the blade. He said that a crack “was on the interior of the fan blade,” and that it was “more than likely not detectable from looking from the outside.”
Days after the incident, investigators are concluding that a simple visual inspection of an engine may not be enough. According to the New York Times, the company who manufactures the engine, CFM International, recommended that airlines conduct ultrasound inspections of the blades. In the United States, carriers aren’t required to follow manufacturers’ guidelines.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is now issuing a directive that all airlines follow CFM’s recommendation to perform the more thorough ultrasound inspection. Unfortunately this is a few weeks too late.
It is important to point out that the NTSB still has not concluded what the root cause of he blade to break apart. It could have been, as suggested above, a lax inspection process. Or possibly a design defect in the engine.
I believe we will see a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of the deceased passenger. They will no doubt name both Southwest and the engine manufacturer as defendants in the case. The interesting thing in this case, which does not bode well for Southwest, is that the Plaintiff’s attorney and the engine manufacturer will argue that they recommended ultrasound inspections for all engines over a year prior to this incident. Southwest did not follow these instructions, and that could be viewed as negligent behavior. It could be argued that Southwest had notice of the potential issue and that the time and cost of this more intense inspection were minimal. Failure to do this inspection was negligent behavior that caused this accident. It will be interesting to see what happens and whether a lawsuit is eventually filed.