What started out as a smooth, easy trip from Nashville to Baltimore quickly turned into a frightening flight for more than 100 passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight Monday. A 1-foot-by-1-foot hole developed on the top of the plane at the base of the vertical stabilizer and exposed passengers to the evening sky.
Passenger Michael Cunningham said he heard a loud boom, and then looked up and saw the hole in the plane's cabin. Cunningham snapped photos (see slideshow at left) after the hole opened up.
"All of the sudden, the loudest noise I ever heard came out of nowhere," he said. "There was no pop, no creak, no explosion-like noise. There was just a loud roar. It took me a couple of seconds to wake up. I got the baseball cap out of my face and I look up and there's the sun coming through the ceiling. ...I saw sky where I shouldn't be seeing it."
The 737's cabin suddenly lost pressure and oxygen masks fell from above. Passengers were instructed to put them over their noses and mouths.
The plane made an emergency landing at 6:15 p.m. at Yeager Airport in Charleston, W.Va.. Incredibly, no one was injured. Airport spokesperson Mike Plante said the passengers were remarkably calm as they waited for another plane to take them on to their true destination.
The passengers finally landed at BWI just before 10:30 p.m.
"As soon as we got to the airport in West Virginia, everybody cheered, everybody high-fived the captain. Some gave him hugs," Cunningham said. "But it was great crew, great flight crew, great flight attendants. Everybody just did what they needed to do and everybody was fine."
After the incident, Southwest officials said the airline will be inspecting its entire 737 fleet. Airline officials said they did not expect overnight inspections to cause a major impact on Southwest flights Tuesday.