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Flight Diverts After Evac Slide Inflates In Cabin

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United 737 file photo

United 737 file photo

A United Airliners 737 en route from Chicago to Los Angeles landed in Wichita Sunday night after an emergency evacuation slide inadvertently inflated inside the cabin. The aircraft was in cruise flight at FL 380 when the incident occurred, according to Reuters. The aircraft, a 737-700, was carrying 96 passengers plus five crew members. 

"The flight diverted to Wichita ... no one was injured and the flight landed safely," United said in a statement. All the passengers were seated when the slide inflation occurred and the airline said that early reports that a passenger attempted to open the cabin door in flight were incorrect. 

According to KWCH-TV in Wichita, the aircraft descended from FL 380 to 11,000 feet due to loss of cabin pressurization. But it's not clear if this happened before or after the slide deployed. Mike Schroeder, a passenger aboard the 737, told KWCH that he heard a hiss and a pop, then saw the slide expanding. United said the aircraft would be inspected Monday to determine why the slide inflated. 

Although inadvertent slide inflations are rare, they're hardly unheard of. In November 2013, we reported on a slide extension in an Embraer ERJ-190 en route from Fort Myers, Fla., to Boston's Logan airport. In 2008, a chartered MD-81 suffered a tailcone slide inflation that compromised the aircraft's pitch control and returned to St. Louis, its departure airport. 

More common are slide malfunctions in actual evacuation events, according to a study done (PDF) by the National Aerospace Laboratory in the Netherlands in 2006. The study found that in nearly half of the evacuations studied, slides didn't inflate automatically and in 28 percent, they couldn't be inflated manually or automatically. In 6 percent of cases, the slides inflated inside the cabin, rather than extending, as they are designed to do. The study concluded that the industry has not effectively addressed shortcomings in slide design and maintenance.

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