Tear in Boeing jet during Southwest flight likely caused by manufacturing defect  On April 1, a Southwest Airlines flight suffered a hole in the riveting of its roof in the midst of a flight. The plane's pilots were able to safely land the aircraft without any injuries, and this week investigators released a report detailing the crash. According to analysts, manufacturing defects are most likely to blame for the tear.

The plane was a Boeing 737 that was delivered to the airline in 1996. According to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board, the plane had accumulated 48,740 hours of service and 39,781 cycles - defined as a takeoff and a landing - at the time of the accident. Investigators who inspected the plane immediately upon landing said the hole measured nine inches across and 59 inches in length in the roof of the plane.

The report concludes that rivet holes on one layer of the plane's skin did not line up properly with an underlying layer. Experts said the aluminum skin had not properly bound together, which made the plane more vulnerable to cracks and was likely caused by a manufacturing defect.

Though the government's report did not draw any conclusions in its findings, industry watchers contend a manufacturing error was likely the culprit. "It means the assembly was wrong, it means the wrong tools were used, it means they were careless in drilling the holes, and maybe the drill was dull," John J. Goglia, an aircraft maintenance expert and former member of the safety board, told the New York Times.

For its part, Boeing - along with the Federal Aviation Administration - recommended in the wake of the incident that all airlines operating late-model Boeing 737s check the planes to ensure there were no cracks in the skin of the planes. Like the plane that suffered the tear, however, five other Southwest aircrafts that had about 40,000 cycles each were also found to have cracks in their skin; Boeing had not previously advised inspecting those planes until 60,000 cycles.

Some industry analysts are unconvinced a manufacturing error is to blame for the incident, including Tecop International owner Hans J. Weber. "This is a real puzzle," Weber told the Times. "I am not fully satisfied with the explanation. The manufacturing of aluminum is very well understood."
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  1. These holes didn't line up, either: