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Fri, Apr 08, 2011

Yet Another April 1st Surprise... What Happened To SWA 1147?

April 1st Was A Tough Day For Southwest Airlines

It was an eventful day for an airline promoted by many as one of the best-run and most customer-oriented in the business. While the day's news was soon spiraling all about an emergency landing executed by a stricken B737-300 that blew out a section of the fuselage and decompressed in very short order, necessitating an unplanned landing in Yuma, AZ, another Boeing 737 undertook an emergency landing with little fanfare or notice... and we're having a tough time getting answers about what happened.

According to a source on board the aircraft, SWA 1147 departed Orlando, FL, heading west to Houston, where it ran into serious trouble while over the Gulf of Mexico. Scheduled to depart at 1035 EDT, the flight actually got off the deck at 1053 and is documented as having filed for 38000 feet enroute on what appeared to be a fairly direct routing for KHOU.

At 1145, the bird stepped down to 36000 feet and maintained that altitude until 1223. According to a passenger on the flight, shortly before this time a odor of smoke became evident to persons throughout the cabin and was noted by those in the cockpit. It was an acrid, electrical odor and the flight crew did not ignore the need for urgency. With the assistance of Houston Center, SWA1147 started a swift descent, recording an initial descent of 7260 FPM and keeping up as much as 4560-4800 FPM until reaching an altitude of 12000 feet. The flight track shows the aircraft executing a hard right turn to head for KMSY (New Orleans) with a landing that followed at 1128 CDT (1228 EDT). The ride inside was described as "extreme" in terms of the change in altitude and flight path and it was obvious that the flight crew was responding aggressively and swiftly to the potential fire that the smoke may have indicated.

The approach was treated seriously. Passengers were prepared for a 'full-on' emergency landing... include evac instructions, ditching procedures and the works -- this crew was taking no chances in being left unprepared for what was to come. Our source on board reported that the cabin crew kept up the chant of "Heads Down!, Stay Down!" all the way down til the flight until stopped safely on the ground. It was a dramatic arrival in New Orleans...

SWA personnel reportedly took reasonable care of the passengers once they were safe on the ground while the flight crew was lauded for their swift action... Still, the urgency obviously produced some anxiety and apprehension during the maneuvering required to get the aircraft on the ground as quickly and safely as possible. But once disembarked, few clues were given as to what actually took place. Questions were asked and few answers were forthcoming... especially from those of us following up in the media... where SWA promised additional follow-up and info for four days now... to no avail. While it may certainly be possible that they have enough on their plate, ignoring such a scenario -- one virtually repeated by another airplane hours later into the same airport, just makes little sense in a world where the lack of such info remains conspicuous and questionable.

The only details that have been dispatched were contained in an email sent to passengers offering a brief explanation and a voucher for a future flight... should anyone care to fly the airline again. The email message, sent by Adrienne Yurdyga, Assistant Manager, SWA's Proactive Customer Service Communications, simply notes that, "On behalf of Southwest Airlines, I wholeheartedly apologize for the disruption of your April 1 flight, and regret any unsettling feelings you may have about this overall situation. Along with my apologies, I'd like to share with you some follow-up information about what happened.

While en route to Houston Hobby, an odor was detected in the cabin; and in response, the Captain diverted to New Orleans (the nearest city) to have the problem checked out. We appreciate your patience and cooperation while alternate arrangements were made to continue your trip. After speaking with our Maintenance Department, I learned that the gasper fan (which provides air flow into the cabin from the air circulation system) had stopped working which caused the smell.

We regret any subsequent inconvenience(s) as a result of yesterday's interruption, and we hope to have another opportunity to provide you with a better travel experience. In this spirit, I'm sending a LUV Voucher (separately, but to the same e-mail address) that we invite you to apply toward the purchase of a future Southwest reservation. You can be sure that we are looking forward to seeing you again real soon."

Calls to SWA have been made and no concrete details have been furnished, despite the promise of callbacks. And while the matter seems to have turned out well, the silence is conspicuous. We're quite curious as to what really happened on SWA 1147, what was the origin of the burning electrical smell (in detail... a fan stoppage is unlikely to create the reported odor... but what stopped the fan might have -- we inquiring aviators are quite curious), and most important of all... are incidents like this one, as well as the far more publicized issues this week, endemic of an airline that may be getting out of step with its maintenance practices, needs, and procedures? We await further info from SWA... but for the moment, we're not holding our breath.

FMI: www.southwest.com, www.flightaware.com

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