Airline passengers prayed aloud, gripped their armrests and tried to avoid panic during extreme turbulence after the captain announced that part of the wing had fallen off.
Southwest Airlines flight 987 from Austin, Texas, operated by a B737-300, was carrying 109 passengers and five crew to the Texas city of Harlingen when part of the wing went missing in flight. The fight crew announced a diversion to San Antonio and prepared for an emergency landing.
Passengers said the pilot confirmed a piece of the wing had gone missing, but that he still had control of the plane, local TV station Channel 5 news reported.
Passenger Hayden Ellis told Channel 5 news: “I think even the pilots were kind of uncertain as to what had happened but the pilot came on and said, uh, yup, everyone remain calm, a piece of the plane…or he said a piece of the wing fell off.”
Another passenger called the incident a “near death experience” and described how people had screamed a warning to cabin crew when they saw a piece of the left wing break off and fly away, leaving a panel hanging.
“The plane began to experience the worst turbulence ever, for several minutes,” passenger Lorenzo Hernandez wrote.
“In that moment I heard prayers in low voice volume, I saw people bring their cellphones out, some took pictures, some I believe took the time to text what they might have thought would of been the last words to the family. I know I did. I am glad to say the great staff and pilots kept calm and stabilised the plane after a few minutes.”
The B737-300 landed safely at San Antonio airport, where they were transferred to another flight and the damaged plane was removed from service.
Written by Peter Needham