Investigators found a major clue to what may have caused Southwest jet's engine failure

  • The National Transportation Safety Board’s chairman, Robert Sumwalt, said the engine whose failure killed a woman on a Southwest Airlines jet on Tuesday was missing a fan blade.
  • Investigators found evidence of metal fatigue at the point where the blade broke off.
  • Southwest Airlines says it will immediately begin enhanced inspections of its entire fleet of more than 710 Boeing 737s.

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board have a major new clue in their hunt for what caused the left engine on a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 to fail during a Tuesday flight. The incident resulted in the death of one passenger, identified as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In a press conference Tuesday evening, the NTSB’s chairman, Robert Sumwalt, announced that one of the engine’s 24 fan blades, the 13th, had snapped off near the central hub.

According to Sumwalt, a preliminary examination of where the blade failed found evidence of metal fatigue. The investigation is expected to take 12 to 15 months.

Sumwalt told the media that Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly indicated the airline would immediately begin enhanced inspections using ultrasonics of the engines across its fleet of more than 710 Boeing 737s.

The Boeing 737-700 involved in Tuesday’s accident was delivered new to Southwest Airlines in July 2000. The nearly 18-year-old jet is powered by two CFM International CFM56-7B turbofan engines. CFM International is a joint venture between GE Aviation and France’s Safran Aircraft Engines.

One of the most popular jet engines in the world, the CFM56-7B can be found on more than 6,700 aircraft.

“The members of the CFM Team worldwide wish to express their deepest condolences to the family of the victim of this incident,” the jet-engine maker said in a statement. “CFM will support the NTSB and Southwest Airlines in determining the cause of the accident and CFM and its parent companies, GE and Safran, will make every resource necessary available to ensure support.”

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