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Records lacking for fuselage rips

Boeing didn't retain manufacturing records that may have allowed investigators to determine why the fuselage on an American Airlines 757-200 jetliner tore in flight last year, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

That lack of records has also hampered the safety board's efforts to pinpoint the cause of a larger tear that forced the crew of a Southwest Airlines 737-300 to make an emergency landing April 1, according to two government officials familiar with the investigation. They asked not to be identified as the probe is ongoing.

"Records of manufacture for the skin panels on the accident airplane and the other airplanes with fuselage skin cracking were not retained and were not required to be retained," the safety board wrote in a report, dated Sept. 19, on the American incident. "Therefore, a cause for the manufacturing non-conformance could not be identified."

The American jet's skin was too thin, which led to cracks, the board found. Without records detailing how the plane was built and inspected, the board wrote, it could not determine the source of the manufacturing defect.

In the Southwest incident, a 5-foot section of the jet tore open at 34,000 feet, triggering an explosive decompression and injuring one flight attendant. The plane made an emergency landing in Yuma, Ariz.

The tear has been tied to rivets not being secured properly when the jet was built in 1996, according to the safety board and Boeing airplanes chief James Albaugh.

Records of how those rivets were installed and inspected don't exist, the government officials told Bloomberg.

The reason records don't exist was detailed in the safety board's report on the American incident, in which an 18-by-7-inch tear opened above the left-side front passenger door at 32,000 feet, about 16 minutes after the jet left Miami Oct. 26.

The jet made an emergency landing in Miami. No one was injured.