Mid-air terror as hole opens up on packed passenger plane

Posted on 2:52 PM by Sameer Shah

A passenger jet was forced to make an emergency landing after a foot-square hole opened up in the cabin mid flight.

Southwest Airlines inspected about 200 planes overnight after the hole appeared in the passenger cabin of the Boeing 737 plane, forcing an emergency landing in West Virginia.

Passengers said they could see right through the hole as the cabin lost pressure during the flight on Monday. No one was injured on the Nashville-to-Baltimore flight which carried 126 passengers and five crew members.

Brian Cunningham told NBC's "Today" show that he had dozed off in his seat in mid cabin when he was awakened by "the loudest roar I'd ever heard."

'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,' he said.

The hole was above his seat but he added that people stayed calm and put on the oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling.

"After we landed in Charleston, the pilot came out and looked up through the hole, and everybody applauded, shook his hand, a couple of people gave him hugs," Cunningham said.

It's not clear what caused the damage.

Southwest spokeswoman Marilee McInnis confirmed the airline inspected 200 Boeing 737-300-series jets overnight at hangars around the country and discovered no other similar problems.

"It was a walk-around visual inspection just to check for structural integrity," McInnis said.

All those planes were put into routine service this morning, while the airliner that landed in West Virginia remained on the tarmac.

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board and the aircraft manufacturer Boeing were helping to determine cause of the hole, McInnis said.

The hobbled airliner was placed in service during the 1990s and went through "routine maintenance" this month, according to McInnis.

The 137-seat 737-300 makes up about one-third of the carrier's fleet of about 540 jets.

Southwest was operating a normal schedule of flights - about 3,300 per day - with no cancelations or delays through midmorning, McInnis said.

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