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Southwest Boeing 737 Unexpectedly Dives Toward Neighborhood, Scares Residents During Terrifying Scene

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Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.

Considering that Boeing currently has a brand reputation somewhere between that of Yugo and Asbestos-Tasteez lollipops, you’d hope for some good news for the troubled planemaker.

Heck, at this point, you’d hope for more than a few weeks in between major incidents involving one of its aircraft.

Well, we’re talking about Boeing again, so guess what? No such luck.

According to multiple reports, a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 flew less than 500 feet above a residential neighborhood near Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City on June 19, triggering low altitude warnings from air traffic controllers and alarming residents, some of whom thought the plane was about to crash.

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The incident came less than a month after another Southwest 737 experienced what’s known as a “Dutch roll” — a dangerous in-flight aerodynamic oscillation that led to damage to the aircraft, according to The New York Times.

The latest incident, according to The Oklahoman, occurred shortly after midnight when Southwest Airlines Flight 4069 was on approach to Oklahoma City after flying in from Las Vegas.

When the plane was above Yukon High School in Yukon, Oklahoma, the 737 reached a minimum altitude of below 500 feet, which set off altitude alerts with the air traffic control tower.

“Southwest 4069, low altitude alert. You good out there?” the air traffic controller said, according to an archived version of the ATC audio from site LiveATC.net.

The crew responded that things were OK and that they would come back around for a second approach.

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“After receiving the low altitude alert, flight records show the plane quickly gained altitude, climbing from around 450 feet above ground when it crossed over the northern edge of Yukon High School’s property, to more than 1,000 feet above ground by the time it crossed the southern edge of the school’s property,” KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City reported.

This is a 3-D visual representation of what the missed approach would have looked like:

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“Southwest is following its robust Safety Management System and is in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration to understand and address any irregularities with the aircraft’s approach to the airport,” an airline representative said. “Nothing is more important to Southwest than the safety of our customers and employees.”

The low altitude missed approach had many residents taking to social media to express their concerns, according to the New York Post.

“It woke me up and I thought it was gonna hit my house,” one wrote.

“Thought I was having cool dreams about airplanes other night but actually had a 737 buzz my house,” another said.

Now, to be fair, there are several factors in play here that don’t implicate Boeing’s involvement directly.

The first is, obviously, the late hour of the flight and the fact that the descent appears to have been a controlled one, at least from the graphic and other supporting data. While amateur aviation sleuthing is a fool’s game, distracted crews, long hours and some sort of miscalculation or error have, on occasion, led to crashes known as “controlled flights into terrain,” or CFITs.

Perhaps most infamously, in 1972, Eastern Air Lines flight 401 crashed into the Florida Everglades, killing 101 on board, after the crew became preoccupied with a malfunctioning light on descent into Miami and accidentally disengaged the autopilot while trying to diagnose the problem, leading the plane into a steady, controlled descent into the swamplands.

There were 75 survivors.

Do you trust Boeing?

Second, while no PR employee for Boeing ever wants to get woken up in the middle of the night with a report of an incident involving a 737, the plane involved in the Oklahoma City incident was a 737-800 — an older model that has a relatively safe history and was never plagued by the same software issues that grounded the company’s 737 Max for nearly two years.

However, the incident did come just mere weeks after a Southwest 737 Max 8 sustained “substantial” damage after the “Dutch roll” incident during a flight from Phoenix to Oakland, California, on May 25.

“A Dutch roll is ‘a coupled oscillation’ that creates simultaneous side-to-side and rocking motions, producing a figure-8 effect. The phenomenon is believed to have been named by an aeronautical engineer who compared it to a traditional ice skating technique made popular in the Netherlands,” the Times noted.

“If unaddressed, the wobbling can become more exaggerated, creating a dangerous feedback loop.”

However, modern commercial aircraft generally have software that allows them to dampen any Dutch roll effects that might occur in flight.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about this,” said Jeff Guzzetti, a former accident investigator for the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board.

“Usually modern jets need computers to dampen out these potential ‘Dutch roll’ tendencies. It may just be an indication of the wrong circumstances at the wrong time with the wrong components out of commission,” he said.

That was, at least, the explanation from Boeing’s top engineer when speaking before Congress on June 18. Howard McKenzie told a Senate hearing there was a “unique circumstance” involving the Southwest plane in question “that has nothing to do with design or manufacturing,” according to the aviation news site Flight Global.

“We are pulling together the data that we have, and it does not indicate that there is anything that is of fleet concern here,” he said. “The Dutch roll is an oscillation due to the rudder actuator responding to a particular circumstance that it is in … the data we have indicates that this airplane underwent some unique circumstance that is particular to this airplane.”

That being said, we’re again being asked to trust the words of Boeing — a company defending itself against whistleblower concerns about quality concern issues with its 737, 777 and 787 planes. For those of you who are not into civil aviation: That is the entirety of the range of airliners that Boeing currently produces.

Is it any surprise that, as Business Insider noted in January, some flyers are paying extra to not fly on a Boeing plane?

Perhaps this Oklahoma incident had nothing to do with the 737 itself or its design. In fact, preliminary circumstantial evidence would suggest that was the case.

Then again, people don’t stake their lives on preliminary circumstantial evidence, and they have issues with a company that has a series of groundings, scandals, incidents and whistleblowers who just happen to find themselves in, um, a condition where they’re forced to stop blowing whistles.

All of this — absent the original 737 Max issues, of course, which were very real — could just be paranoid malarkey. Would you bet your life on it, though? Because plenty of passengers won’t, and don’t think airlines aren’t taking notice.


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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Birthplace
Morristown, New Jersey
Education
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture




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