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NTSB Finds 'Widespread Cracking' On Southwest Jet

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Photo by Ack Ook via Flickr
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Investigators found "widespread cracking" on the skin of the Sacramento-bound Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that dramatically broke open at 36,000 feet causing depressurization and forcing an emergency landing in Yuma, Arizona on Friday, said the National Transportation Safety Board, reports CNN.

The flight data recorder indicated the plane was cruising at 36,000 feet when it depressurized, but it dropped to 11,000 within four-and-a-half minutes, Sumwalt said. The pilot initially planned to return to Phoenix to land, but after the flight attendants reported seeing blue sky through the jet's roof he made an emergency landing at a military base in Yuma, Arizona, Sumwalt said.

According to the NTSB, the last major maintenance that might have detected the vulnerability was done in March 2010, and signs of fatigue where "the skin comes together" may not have be easily visible to mechanics during routine inspections.

A section of the aircraft around the hole will be removed and sent to a government lab for study, notes CNN.