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FF12: Probing 737 emergency slide malfunction

By Lauren Seabrook, lseabrook@kwch.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 08:34:01 AM CDT
Updated On: Jun 30 2014 08:58:05 PM CDT
WICHITA, Kan. -

Most people never think about the emergency slide unless they are flipping through the safety manual on their flight. But after a slide opened mid-flight and had to make an emergency landing in Wichita, many are wondering how often it happens.

"I can't ever remember hearing of anything like this happening before," said Lon Smith, Kansas Aviation Museum.

The Federal Aviation Administration says it is incredibly rare, but has happened before. FactFinder 12 asked how many times, but the agency could not tell us. In searching records online, Eyewitness News found at least 22 problems with emergency slides since 1998, including slides that inflated during flight and slides that failed to inflate when passengers needed them.

Click here for photos inside United Flight 1463

"These are incredibly safe planes," Smith said. "There's always the possibility of an anomaly with anything in life and you just have to chalk this one up to that."

The flight safety manual and demonstration videos inside the 737 at the Kansas Aviation museum show how the slide comes out the bottom of the door. The door does not have to be open for it to inflate.

Initial reports came in that a passenger tried to open a door, but United Airlines quickly confirmed that was not the case. Experts say it would be nearly impossible to get it open mid-flight.

"If they're at 30,000 feet, there's more pressure inside than there is outside," Smith said. "It would be impossible to open that in a pressurized situation."

However, if the cabin lost pressure, Smith said, the doors in the center of the plane open inward. The doors in the front and back open outward and toward the front of the plane. Smith said those would be impossible to open.

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United Airlines would not release a maintenance record to FactFinder 12 for the plane that made an emergency landing in Wichita, but FAA records show it has been flying for at least 16 years.

"The B-52 has been flying since 1952 and it's still in service. The KC-135 the same thing and it's still in service. Many of these planes are quite old and they're still reliable, great planes," said Smith.

A very similar situation happened to President Barack Obama, who was Senator Obama at the time, while he was on the campaign trail. A slide opened inside a Jet Blue flight and FAA records show a slide inflated outside the wing door of a commercial flight while the door was closed, in November 2013.

The Boeing-737 is open for members of the public to go inside on the back lot of the Kansas Aviation Museum.

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