A Dallas-bound American Airlines flight that departed from San Francisco International Airport turned around and made an emergency landing after some of the cabin's wall panels cracked loose, terrifying passengers, aviation and airlines officials say. The captain of the Boeing 757 decided to turn around an hour into the flight because of a possible blown air duct; he managed to land safely back at San Francisco, an airline spokesman says. Even though the plane's problem was related to pressurization, the cabin did not lose pressure and oxygen masks did not deploy, the spokesman says.
A Texas man says he and fellow passengers felt the fuselage violently shake and heard popping noises coming from outside of the Boeing as it made its initial ascent, then watched in horror and screamed for the flight attendants to come as interior panels on both sides of the aircraft pulled apart from the walls. Crew members were "pulling the panels apart and looking for daylight behind there," he says. Aviation safety experts say that while it's disconcerting for passengers to see any piece of the plane break, the cabin's wall panels aren't part of the plane's structure. "On the other hand, it's not normal for this to happen to a side wall," an aeronautical engineer and former US Navy pilot says. "Someone is going to have to fix this airplane." (Read more American Airlines stories.)