John Kukuruda was jolted awake when the roof ripped open. Gerald Combs saw the hole after putting the oxygen mask on his 6-year-old daughter.
As Southwest Airlines grounded a portion of its jet fleet Saturday, passengers recalled the tumult and fear on Sacramento-bound Flight 812 after the plane's aluminum skin tore open.
"You could see into the sky," said Combs, 43, of Woodland.
Southwest canceled 300 flights nationwide and parked 79 of its Boeing 737-300 jetliners after the stricken plane made an emergency landing Friday afternoon in Yuma, Ariz., following its takeoff from Phoenix. The canceled flights represented 8 percent to 10 percent of Southwest's network.
With the aircraft out of commission for several days, Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said more cancellations are certain. Those Saturday included 10 at Sacramento International Airport.
The National Transportation Safety Board described the incident as an "in-flight fuselage rupture" and dispatched investigators to Yuma.
Southwest flies 547 planes, all of them 737s. Rutherford said Southwest had replaced or modified the fuselage skin on 92 of its planes in recent years, under a rotation established by the Federal Aviation Administration following similar incidents.
But the 79 jets that were grounded, as well as the plane involved in the emergency Friday, hadn't yet been modified, she said.
"They were not scheduled for that work yet," she said.
After consulting with Boeing, the airline grounded those 79 jets "to make sure we don't find the kind of skin fatigue" that caused Friday's emergency, she said.
Southwest said a flight attendant and at least one passenger were treated for minor injuries. All 118 passengers flew to Sacramento on a later flight.
Kukuruda, 18, a baseball player, was headed home to Roseville after participating in spring training with the Texas Rangers organization. He had dozed off when the roof opened up shortly after 4 p.m.
"All I heard was a loud bang and I woke up," he said.
The passenger cabin quickly depressurized. "When the hole opened up, you could feel the air being sucked out of the plane," Kukuruda said.
He was sitting about 15 feet from the hole, which passengers estimated at about 3 feet long. The Roseville resident said he felt lightheaded and reached for his oxygen mask.
Another passenger, Christine Ziegler of Sacramento, said a flight attendant fainted. A passenger passed out when he took off his mask to help the attendant, she said.
The FAA said the jet, cruising at 34,000 feet, made a "rapid, controlled descent" to about 11,000 feet. At that altitude, oxygen was no longer required. The jet landed at Yuma at 4:30 p.m., or about a half-hour after the emergency began.
John Gadzinski, a pilot and aviation consultant in Virginia, told the Associated Press that the main peril was the depressurization of the cabin, not the hole. As long as the pilots donned oxygen masks, they were able to control the plane, he said.
He said the pilots probably had only 10 to 20 seconds of "useful consciousness" to put on their masks.
Southwest didn't identify the captain or others in the flight crew.
Rutherford said inspectors check different sections of a plane's fuselage, looking for wear and stress, under an FAA-mandated schedule. She said the plane involved in Friday's incident had its fuselage checked in February and March, although neither inspection covered the section that ruptured. That section wasn't part of the FAA rotation, she said.
She added that the plane had undergone a scheduled "heavy maintenance check" in March 2010.
Southwest was fined $7.5 million by the FAA in March 2009 for operating thousands of flights without performing mandated fuselage inspections. The carrier also agreed to ramp up its safety procedures.
Four months later, in July 2009, a Southwest jet experienced a fuselage rupture as it was climbing to cruise altitude. The plane landed safely in West Virginia.
Dan Rose, an aviation lawyer from New York, said Friday's incident seems similar to the 2009 case. His firm, Kreindler & Kreindler, represented passengers in that case and negotiated confidential settlements for damages.
Rose said the FAA has issued several "airworthiness directives" orders to make inspections or repairs on fuselage skin issues, but problems keep popping up.
"It seems that it's not sufficiently addressing the problem," he said.
Rose said Southwest's business model might be part of the issue. Unlike some of its rivals, Southwest specializes in short flights. That means lots of takeoffs and landings, which put stress on the skin.
"It's almost like blowing up a balloon, up and down, a million times," he said.
In probably the most horrific example of fuselage fatigue, the roof of an Aloha Airlines 737 partly peeled open during a 1988 flight. A flight attendant was sucked out of the plane and killed, while dozens of passengers were hurt.
Investigators said they may not discover the cause of Friday's incident for some time. "We are in the early stages of this investigation," said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams.