By Saul Sugarman
I Bay City News Service==
Dozens of flights have been canceled in and out of Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose after a hole ripped in a Southwest Airlines plane and the aircraft depressurized as it left Arizona on Friday, according to the company and airport officials.
Airline management announced Saturday morning the grounding of 79 Boeing 737 aircraft after a 3-foot hole ripped in the top of a plane carrying 118 passengers toward Sacramento from Phoenix, Arizona, at about 3:25 p.m. Friday.
Pilots of Flight 812 worked quickly to land the plane in Yuma, Arizona, while oxygen masks dropped down to allow passengers to breathe during the depressurization, according to Southwest Airlines.
The plane landed a short time later in Yuma. A flight attendant and at least one passenger suffered minor injuries in the commotion, and they were treated and released once on the ground. No one was taken to a hospital, officials said.
Airline management expected to cancel about 300 flights Saturday, which has caused a ripple effect of travel delays in the Bay Area and throughout California.
"They've had a continuous line at their check-in counter all day," said Dan D'Innocenti, duty manager at San Francisco International Airport.
"The delay for passengers is probably not that long," he added, and said Southwest Airlines' high volume of planes makes the company more capable of managing the cancellations.
Airline officials are working with the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration to identify and solve any issues with the type of aircraft that malfunctioned.
The investigation is expected to last for several days, and officials expected delays of up to two hours on some of Saturday's flights.
An airline spokesperson could not be reached to comment.
"We are working closely with Boeing to conduct these proactive inspections and support the investigation," said Mike Van de Ven, Southwest's executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a statement.
All passengers onboard Flight 812 received a full refund and two complimentary roundtrip passes for future flights with Southwest, along with an apology from the company.