UPDATE 2-Southwest may cancel another 300 flights Sunday

(Updates with possible impact on Sunday, other details)

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES, April 2 (Reuters) – Southwest Airlines (LUV.N: Quote, Profile, Research)
canceled hundreds of flights over the weekend as it inspected
79 aircraft from its Boeing 737 fleet after one of its planes
with a gaping hole in the fuselage made an emergency landing,
the airline said on Saturday.

The airline said was canceling some 300 flights on
Saturday, a day after the emergency landing, and could cancel
around that number again on Sunday.

“We don’t at this time know what the impact will be, but
it’s possible that it could be in the 300-flight range again
tomorrow,” Southwest spokesman Brandy King told Reuters.

Passengers aboard Southwest Flight 812 from Phoenix to
Sacramento on Friday heard a loud noise and the hole appeared
suddenly at about mid cabin, forcing the pilot landed at a
military base in Yuma, Arizona.

The emergency aboard the Boeing (BA.N: Quote, Profile, Research) 737-300 prompted the
airline to examine similar aircraft within its fleet, with a
total of 79 inspections planned at five locations over the next
several days, Southwest said in a statement.

Southwest normally has about 3,400 flights on Saturday,
King said, so the cancellations accounted for nearly 9 percent
of that total.

“We did our best to accommodate those passengers on other
Southwest flights,” King said.

A total of 931 Boeing 737-300s are operated by all airlines
worldwide, with 288 of them in the United States, the Federal
Aviation Administration said.

The Southwest flight that was forced to make an emergency
landing had 118 passengers and five crew members on board.

Southwest and Boeing engineers will inspect the grounded
aircraft, and the airline is working with federal authorities
to determine the cause of the incident, Southwest said.

The pilot made a rapid descent from about 34,400 feet
(10.3 km) to 11,000 feet (3.4 km), following standard practice
to reach an altitude where supplemental oxygen is no longer
required, the FAA said.

One flight attendant and at least one passenger were
treated at the scene for minor injuries, Southwest said.

The Boeing 737 landed at 4:07 p.m. local time after
declaring an emergency, said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

The airline said it arranged for another aircraft to take
the passengers from the Yuma Marine Corps Air Station to
Sacramento.

Passengers described the harrowing scene to the CBS
television affiliate in Sacramento, detailing the damage to the
plane.

“They had just taken drink orders when I heard a huge sound
and oxygen masks came down and we started making a rapid
descent. They said we’d be making an emergency landing,” a
woman identified as Cindy told the station.

“There was a hole in the fuselage about three feet (91 cm)
long. You could see the insulation and the wiring. You could
see a tear the length of one of the ceiling panels.”
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Lauren
Keiper in Boston; Editing by Greg McCune and Vicki Allen)

UPDATE 2-Southwest may cancel another 300 flights Sunday