FAA orders engine inspections after deadly Southwest Airlines incident

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Airline regulators have ordered inspections on engine fan blades like the one that snapped off a Southwest Airlines plane and led to the death of a woman who was partially sucked out of a window on a New York City-to-Dallas flight earlier this week.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the blade broke off the engine fan at more than 32,000 feet shortly after the Southwest plane took off from LaGuardia Airport, citing "metal fatigue." The plane made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

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The FAA is now calling for all similar engines to have their fan blades inspected, and officials say they say they plan to order a directive that all fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections.

The NTSB also blamed metal fatigue for an engine failure on a Southwest plane in Florida in 2016. That led manufacturer CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France's Safran SA, to recommend last June that airlines conduct the inspections of fan blades on many Boeing 737s. It is something the FAA proposed making mandatory nearly a year ago, but the draft directive was never approved.

Related: One passenger's account of emergency landing

Southwest said their manual inspection did not catch the metal fatigue that the NTSB believes caused that explosion.

"It was on the interior part of the fan blade, so not more than likely, it was certainly not detectable from looking at it from the outside," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

European regulators recently implemented the same directive.

It was not immediately clear how many planes would be affected. Last year, the FAA estimated that an order would cover 220 engines on U.S. airlines. That number could be higher now because more engines have hit the number of flights triggering an inspection.

Southwest announced its own program for similar inspections of its 700-plane fleet over the next month. United Airlines executives said Wednesday that they had begun inspecting some of their planes. American Airlines has about 300 planes with that type of engine, and Delta Air Lines has about 185. It will not be clear until the FAA issues its rule how many will need inspections.

Tuesday's emergency broke a string of eight straight years without a fatal accident involving a U.S. airliner.

The explosion sent debris hurtling back and through the window where passenger Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother of two from New Mexico, was sitting. She was exposed to 600 mile per hour winds and died from blunt force impact to her head, neck and torso.

Related: Retired nurse helped critically injured Southwest Airlines passenger

The victim's family released a statement saying:

"We appreciate the outpouring of support for our family and the love for Jennifer. Hearing stories of how she impacted everyone in so many meaningful ways has truly touched our hearts. To honor her legacy, an official memorial site has been created to fund causes that were near and dear to her heart."

Learn more at Caringcent.com/sparklejennifer.

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