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Damaged Southwest jet repaired, leaves for Texas

A Southwest Airlines jetliner that had a fuselage rupture above Arizona early this month has left the state after being repaired.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Southwest Airlines jetliner that had a fuselage rupture above Arizona this month has left the state after being repaired, an initial step for the plane to be put back into passenger service.

The Boeing 737-300 has been patched and repainted and there is no sign of the 5-foot hole that opened in the plane's roof on April 1, Yuma International Airport spokeswoman Gen Grosse said.

The jet flew to Southwest's home base at Love Field in Dallas on Wednesday morning, company spokeswoman Brandy King said. The plane made a brief stop and then took off again for a flight to a facility where more permanent repairs can be made. Boeing worked with Southwest to design a repair plan to the jet. Aircraft with that extent of damage are commonly repaired and placed back in service.

The aircraft tracking website Flight Aware showed the final destination as Greensboro, N.C., site of a major private repair facility.

The plane never went over 10,000 feet Wednesday, meaning it could fly without pressurization.

Following the emergency, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered inspections of all older model 737-300s, -400s and -500s with at least 30,000 takeoffs and landings. The order applies to about 10 percent of the 6,000 737s in service worldwide.

Southwest inspected its 79 737-300s and found five others with the same kind of cracks believed to have caused the emergency earlier this month.

About 100 other planes worldwide are required to have inspections by the end of April and hundreds more will need them when they reach the FAA threshold. International airlines including Qantas and SAS were inspecting their fleets.

In addition, the FAA emergency airworthiness directive requires re-inspections of the suspect jetliners every 500 flights. For Southwest and other carriers that fly their planes on multiple short hops every day, that would require crews to examine the planes with specialized crack detectors every couple of months.

Flight 812 was nearing 35,000 feet and just 18 minutes into a flight from Phoenix to Sacramento when it experienced what is known as an explosive decompression, a rip in the pressurized fuselage. Passengers had to scramble for their oxygen masks as the pilots declared an emergency and rapidly descended to 10,000 feet, where oxygen isn't required. The pilots then diverted to the Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, which shares runways with the private airfield.

Southwest decided within hours to pull its similar planes for inspections, leading to hundreds of flight cancellations. The action came days before the FAA order.

The airline found five more of its planes with fatigue cracking similar to the cracking that National Transportation Safety board investigators believe led to the tear in a riveted joint in the plane's skin.