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Southwest plane with cracked window diverted to Cleveland; no reports of injuries or engine problems

Southwest plane with cracked window diverted to Cleveland; no reports of injuries or engine problems
A Southwest Airlines plane approaches St. Louis' Lambert International Airport in January 2014. (Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press)

A Southwest Airlines jetliner flying from Chicago to New Jersey made an emergency landing Wednesday after one of its windows cracked, but the carrier said there were no signs of engine problems on the aircraft

No passengers were injured in the incident on Flight 957, which was diverted to Cleveland's Hopkins International Airport. But it came barely two weeks after an engine failed on a flight from New York to Dallas, sending shrapnel into the fuselage and killing a passenger.

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The Dallas carrier said that the New Jersey-bound plane was diverted for a "maintenance review" after the outer layer of the multilayer window pane cracked. The Federal Aviation Administration said it was investigating the incident.

Such cracks are rare, with the FAA saying its data show only 26 reports of outer-pane failures in the entire history of the Boeing 737, which started service in 1967. Southwest's entire fleet of more than 700 planes is composed of versions of the Boeing plane.

Southwest said that there were no problems with the engine, and the damage to the window didn't cause a loss of cabin pressure or trigger deployment of oxygen masks.

"The flight landed uneventfully in Cleveland," the carrier said.

Some of the 76 passengers on the plane told the Associated Press that they heard popping, and those sitting near the windows on the left side of the plane moved quickly away. After being shuttled on another plane, passengers lauded the plane's crew for handling the situation smoothly.

Within minutes of the incident, news of the cracked window reached social media.

Images posted online seem to show that the damaged window was just behind and above the engine on the left wing of the plane.

After two incidents involving windows in a month, crisis-management expert Curtis Sparrer said Southwest's reputation could be tarnished if the carrier doesn't take bold action to assure passengers that its planes are safe.

"Every time you go on a Southwest plane you will now be looking at the windows and saying, 'Will I be next?'" said Sparrer, a principal at Bospar PR in San Francisco.

Although neither the airline nor the FAA gave any preliminary reason for why the window may have cracked, airline consultant Robert Mann, a former American Airlines executive, said that windows are periodically polished to remove crazing, tiny cracks that form in the acrylic windows from exposure to chemicals and the sun's rays.

He said he couldn't recall if the procedure itself ever caused a crack.

Last month's fatal accident, according to federal investigators, occurred when a metal blade in an engine broke off, causing the engine to fail and send shrapnel into the fuselage, shattering a window. The woman sitting next to the window was killed. She was the first passenger fatality in the 51-year history of the airline and the first passenger death on a U.S. airline since 2009.

Southwest said it has nearly completed inspecting the engines on its fleet because of the April 17 incident. .

Southwest executives announced last week that they expect revenue per mile, which tracks average prices, to drop 1% to 3% in the April-through-June quarter. They said that about 2 percentage points of the decline were attributable to slower sales since the accident on a flight from New York to Dallas.

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Shares of Southwest closed down 73 cents, or 1.4%, to $52.21 on Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

UPDATES:

3 p.m.: This article was updated Southwest's closing share price and information by the FAA about how rare it is for windows on 737 planes to fail.

12:35 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from crisis management expert Curtis Sparrer and airline consultant Robert Mann and additional details about the incident.

11:05 a.m.: This article was updated with Southwest Airlines stating that the incident did not appear to involve any engine problems, as well as details on the fatal April 17 accident.

This article was originally published at 9:10 a.m.

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