Probe initiated after Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 8 descends ‘within 400ft’ near Pacific Ocean

The Federal Aviation Administration has launched an investigation into a recent incident involving a Southwest Airlines flight. On April 11, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft was flying from Honolulu to Lihue airport in Kauai when it came within 400 feet of the ocean after an aborted landing attempt. The plane experienced a maximum descent rate of 4,400 feet per minute before the pilots were able to regain control and climb back to a safe altitude.

According to a memo sent to pilots and obtained by Reuters, the decision to bypass the landing attempt was due to bad weather conditions. During the go-around, the first officer unintentionally pushed forward on the control column while following thrust lever movement commanded by the autothrottle. This action caused the aircraft to dangerously approach the Pacific Ocean. The memo also stated that the crew received oral warnings to “DON’T SINK” and “PULL UP”, but the first officer claimed they did not hear them. Fortunately, there were no injuries reported.

This incident comes on the heels of another Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 experiencing a “Dutch roll” during a flight from Phoenix to Oakland on May 25. A “Dutch roll” is a combination of the aircraft’s tail swaying from side to side and the plane rocking, causing the wings to go up and down. The pilots were able to regain control and land safely, but the incident resulted in substantial damage to the unit controlling backup power to the rudder. The National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating this incident.

In the aftermath of the Hawaii flight incident, pilots participating in a post-incident debrief stated that seeing the severity of the flight’s movements through an animated recreation was a “significant, emotional event”, according to a memo from Southwest. The memo also mentioned that the crew has taken comprehensive corrective actions and the airline is reviewing data and trends related to its procedures, training, standards, and performance. In a statement released on June 14, Southwest Airlines stated that the incident was addressed appropriately and they are constantly striving for continuous improvement.

In a separate incident, a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 jet bound for Melbourne, Australia, was forced to make an emergency landing in the New Zealand city of Invercargill after one of its engines caught fire. The airline suspects the incident may have been caused by a bird strike. The Boeing 737-800s are the previous generation of 737s before the newer MAXs, which have been plagued with safety concerns. These concerns include a incident in which a chunk of the aircraft’s fuselage fell out and two crashes that resulted in the grounding of the entire MAX fleet.

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