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updated 4/6/2011 8:06:12 PM ET 2011-04-07T00:06:12

Southwest Airlines mechanics on Wednesday were patching a large hole in a Boeing 737 that made an emergency landing in southwestern Arizona last week, but the company won't say when or if it will be back in service.

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The plane has been sitting on the tarmac at a military base in Yuma, Ariz., since Friday. That's when a hole tore open in the top of the plane carrying 118 people on a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento and pilots scrambled to get it back on the ground. No serious injuries were reported, but passengers and crew had to breathe through oxygen masks to keep from passing out while the pilots brought it down to below 10,000 feet.

The incident raised questions about the effectiveness of airplane inspections across a fleet of thousands of jets.

Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King said the airline would not discuss its plan for the plane's repairs or its return to service.

The plane landed at the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, about 150 miles from Phoenix. Part of the base is shared by Yuma International Airport, and airport spokeswoman Gen Grosse said she expects the jetliner to fly out within days.

Teams of Southwest mechanics have now placed a large green aluminum patch on the plane. A spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing said its engineers were working with the airline on the fix.

Southwest mechanics on Sunday cut out a large section of the fuselage surrounding the 5-foot by 1-foot tear, and National Transportation Safety Board investigators took it to Washington so they can analyze why the fuselage failed along a lap joint failed.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued an emergency order on Tuesday for urgent inspections on similar older-model Boeing 737-300s, 737-400s and 747-500s that have had at least 30,000 pressurization cycles, basically takeoffs and landings. Cracks can develop from the constant cycle of pressurizing the cabin for flight, and releasing it. The planes were built between 1993 and 2000.

Boeing said 579 airplanes will eventually have to be checked, but just 175 have that many cycles and need immediate inspections. Boeing issued a service bulletin detailing the required inspections earlier this week.

Southwest owns most of the planes requiring inspections in the U.S. fleet, about 80. The majority of the rest are flown by overseas carriers. Those airlines and their nation's aviation authorities are expected to adopt the FAA order.

Southwest finished inspecting all of its affected planes by Tuesday. They found five that had cracks in the same 'lap joint' that tore open during last week's flight.

Boeing said it did not expect to see wear on the joint until the planes reached 60,000 cycles, but the plane that had the failure on Friday had less than 40,000.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: NTSB to order emergency inspections of 737s

Photos: Made in America: Boeing 737

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  1. A Boeing 737 fuselage rolls into Renton, Wash., on Monday, April 5, 2010. The fuselages are manufactured by Spirit Aerosystems in Wichita, Kansas. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 737s move along the rolling production line. The rudder is the only part of the airplane that is painted before the plane makes its first test-flight as the balance of the rudder is critical to proper flight, and even the weight of a paint job is enough to put it out of balance. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Brightly-colored tennis balls protect employees from sharp objects attached to the fuselage frame. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Using a flashlight and a small mirror, a worker closely inspects the the fuselage of the aircraft before insulation and wiring is installed. Boeing employees inspect the fuselage this way three times. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. An employee installs some of the 36 miles of wires into a 737. A 737 contains 367,000 parts. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A 737 cockpit sits empty, awaiting seats and instruments. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Equipment sits outside a 737 in production. The green color is a protective coating that keeps the aluminum from oxidizing. It is washed off with pressure washers before the aircraft is painted. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ready to be installed, bathrooms sit on the factory floor. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Hundreds of seats sit in front of the assembly line of aircraft that crawl along behind them at the rate of two inches per minute on their rolling production line. The production time of a 737 was cut in half in part by Boeing switching from building the planes in stationary positions to the assembly line in 2000. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. In the engine shop the exhaust ducts are installed and the engines go through final inspection before being hung beneath the aircraft's wings. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Machinists prepare an engine for installation. The engines make up one-third of the cost of the 60 million dollar aircraft. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Only 11 days after entering the other end of the factory as a bare fuselage, a finished 737 is readied to head to the flight line. Boeing produces 737s at the rate of 1.5 planes each workday. (John Brecher / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Before being painted, a brand-new 737 goes on a test-flight just outside the Renton 737 plant. There are so many 737s in service that, according to Boeing, one is taking off or landing every 2.2 seconds. (Jim Seida / msnbc.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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