PENSACOLA, Fla. — A DC-9 jetliner that cracked open after a hard landing had been in service for 19 years with only minor maintenance problems and none that could be related to the accident, an Eastern Airlines spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Eastern Flight 573 from Richmond, Va., and Atlanta dragged the fractured rear third of its fuselage most of the way down a runway after landing Sunday night at Pensacola Regional Airport. Three passengers suffered minor injuries during an emergency evacuation.
"It had not had any sort of structural damage prior to this incident," said Karen M. Ceremsak, a spokeswoman at Eastern's Miami headquarters.
Five years ago, an X-ray examination of the plane's fuselage detected a six-inch crack in a floor-beam keel fitting near where the crack occurred Sunday, according to service reports collected by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Assn.
Cracked Fitting Repaired
The cracked fitting at the center of the plane's left wheel well was replaced in August, 1982, according to the records. FAA official Jack Barker said "that may or may not have been a factor."
Ceremsak said the McDonnell Douglas jet entered service with Eastern in late 1968. The age of the aircraft should not be a factor because planes are periodically overhauled, during which parts are replaced or rebuilt, she said.
According to the service records, 18 repairs were made to the plane in the last five years, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday. Among the problems fixed were a crack in a rudder rib, a crack in the fuselage and the keel fitting.
On Monday, Eastern sent a crew to cover up the company's name and logo on the side of the aircraft before photographers were allowed close to it. Ceremsak said she had no explanation for that action.
Investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board interviewed the pilot and co-pilot Tuesday. Agency spokeswoman Drucella Anderson said it was too early to begin drawing conclusions about the accident's cause.
Anderson said the investigators are evaluating weather, the plane's structure, human performance and air traffic conditions at the time of the accident.
Acting airport manager Chuck Porter said weather conditions of two miles visibility and a 900-foot ceiling were well above minimums.