I've been reading with great interest and concern about the recent Southwest flight that resulted in the first fatality in that airline's history.

There's one question I haven't seen answered, though: Was the plane really in serious danger of crashing?

I have long understood that two-engine commercial airliners are designed to be flown safely with one engine. However, are they designed to be flown safely with only one engine as well as a depressurized cabin and broken window? Do these three things in combination make a plane significantly harder to fly or land than just an engine failure?

The passengers aboard this plane had plenty of reason to be terrified, what with oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling and a woman nearly being sucked out of the plane (and ultimately dying from the head trauma she suffered), but the accounts I've read seem to suggest that many thought crashing was the most likely outcome and were preparing for their death.

I don't want to take anything away from the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, who clearly performed superbly under stress and exhibited the highest level of professionalism, but was her safe landing anything other than the expected outcome?

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    $\begingroup$ I think, all things considered, the applause should go to the crew, not necessarily for “piloting an out of control airplane,” which it wasn’t, but rather staying calm and collective in a frightening situation. $\endgroup$
    – Frank
    May 2, 2018 at 18:52

1 Answer 1


Based upon the damage done to the aircraft, the fact that it retained a functioning engine, and the location of the engine failure and divert, no there was not a real immediate danger of crashing.

To be fair this incident was an emergency which caused structural damage to the aircraft and breach of the cabin structure, resulting in the loss of life of a single passenger. It was also a freak accident and I don’t see any evidence that the aircraft or engines used have some kind of inherent design or engineering fault that prophesies more failures or future risk.

It’s possible that we did dodge a bullet and that, by pure chance, the failure of the fan blade and where it was ejected from the fan casing could have resulted in far more damage to the aircraft and critical systems like flight controls, fuel, hydraulics, landing gear, major structural members, etc that COULD have resulted in the very realistic probability of a much more devastating accident when the aircraft either attempted to land or could not maintain level flight further.

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    $\begingroup$ Note that the blade seems to have been actually contained by the casing. However subsequently the inlet cowling, well ahead of the actual fan, then broke off and caused the damage. Why it did so is subject to the investigation—actually two of them, because it already happened once. Since it did not have much energy, it is unlikely it could cause much more damage than it did. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    May 2, 2018 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ If the engines don't have an inherent fault, why is the FAA issuing AD's on them? $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    May 2, 2018 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ @fooot They tend to do that when high visibility issues arise. It’s usually out of an abundance of caution, and not some nefarious “We knew this day was coming,” kind of reaction. $\endgroup$
    – Frank
    May 2, 2018 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ @Frank I just don't think the FAA issues emergency AD's with widespread repeating inspections just for appearances. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    May 4, 2018 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ The issuance of an AD doesn’t not mean a bad or a inherently flawed design, but the details on this won’t be fully known until the NTSB report on this matter is complete. What we do have is an engine design with millions of flight hours logged on it with a good safety record and really nothing to indicate negligence in their design and construction. $\endgroup$ May 4, 2018 at 17:40

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