Hole appears in passenger jet at 36,000 feet

PHOENIX — One passenger said it was a “real quick blast, like a gun.” Another called it “pandemonium.” Still another described watching a flight attendant and another passenger pass out, their heads striking the seats in front of them as they lost consciousness.

Federal officials said it was a “fuselage rupture” — a large hole on the top of the Boeing 737 — that led to a loss of cabin pressure on Friday and a terrifying but “controlled descent” from 36,000 feet to an emergency landing at a military base in the Arizona desert.

No serious injuries were reported among the 118 aboard, according to Southwest Airlines, and the FBI said it was a “mechanical failure,” not an act of terror or other foul play. The cause of the hole was not immediately known.

Passenger Brenda Reese said Flight 812 had just left Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport for Sacramento, Calif., when a “gunshot-like sound” woke her up. She said oxygen masks dropped for passengers and flight attendants as the plane dove.

Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman in Los Angeles, said the pilot “made a rapid, controlled descent from 36,000 feet to 11,000 feet altitude.”
A Sacramento resident told CBS13 she received a text message from her husband, who was aboard the flight: “Plane going down. Love you.”

She said she heard from her husband a few minutes later after the plane landed safely. The woman’s husband said there was an explosion or a hole in the plane, the TV station said.

Shawna Malvini Redden, another passenger aboard the flight, tweeted after landing: “One flight attendant was injured and a couple passengers passed out but nothing major.”

Don Nelson, who was seated one row from the rupture, said it took about four noisy minutes for the plane to dip to less than 10,000 feet, which made him “lightheaded.”

During the rapid descent, “people were dropping,” said Christine Ziegler, a 44-year-old project manager from Sacramento who watched as a crew member and a fellow passenger nearby faint, hitting their heads on the seats in front of them.

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