Southwest Airlines fired pilot who addressed passengers in Spanish when engine burst into flames

The Boeing 737 that experienced emergency moments after takeoff from Houston in August 2023

Amelia Neath
Thursday 23 May 2024 07:46 BST
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Passenger films flames shooting out of wing of Southwest Airlines plane midflight

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A Southwest Airlines captain has filed a complaint against the airline, which sacked him over his decision to speak to passengers rather than fly the plane during an emergency last year.

David Legeros was in command of a Boeing 737 that saw an engine burst into flames moments after takeoff from Houston Hobby Airport in August 2023 on the way to Cancun.

The plane’s right-hand engine suffered “severe damage” during the emergency, but rather than take the controls the captain chose to let the First Officer fly the plane. Instead, Mr Legeros communicated with air traffic control for a return emergency landing back in Houston, according to court documents obtained by The Independent.

In an application for an injunction against the airline filed in a New York district court in April, Mr Legeros states that flames could be seen from inside the cabin, making the passengers “unsurprisingly terrified.”

The court papers state that Mr Legeros then spoke in Spanish and English to the passengers to try and reassure them that the situation was under control.

Following the incident he says that he was reprimanded by the airline, as Southwest’s standard operating procedures instruct the captain to take control of the aircraft during an emergency situation, according to PYOK.

The former captain claimed that if he had taken control of the plane, the aircraft could have suddenly jolted and detached the burning engine, leaving the risk of it falling to the ground.

“Had SWA (Southwest Airlines) decided to reward Mr Legeros, or even ignore him, following his heroics, this story would be over, but SWA decided to punish him,” the petition states.

The court documents claim that the airline found that Mr Legeros “engaged in serious misconduct” after they investigated the incident on Flight WN307.

“Instead of immediate termination for the sin of safely getting a flaming aircraft to the tarmac, Mr Legeros was forced to sign a ‘Last Chance Agreement’ with a myriad of extraordinary requirements for his ‘retraining program,” the injunction application wrote.

Despite the complaint claiming the passengers onboard were “heavily Hispanic”, it alleges that management had criticised him for speaking Spanish to the passengers.

“Based on the pretense of some ‘serious misconduct,’ but in reality due to his status as a person of color, SWA has been looking to push Mr. Legeros out,” the complaint alleges.

Mr Legeros was then, and still is, grounded from flight status, and then in January, the airline said they wanted to conduct a ‘Fitness for Duty’ psychological evaluation.

“There are few better ways to remove an irritating pilot than to develop a medical record that purports to diagnose said pilot as insane,” Mr Legeros’ lawsuit states.

Mr Legeros claimed he could not attend the initial evaluation due to his father being in hospital.

The lawsuit claims that Southwest now wants him to attend a meeting with their Chief Pilot where he would be allowed to resign or be terminated.

Mr Legeros is seeking injunctive relief to prevent SWA from compelling a psychological exam or the Fitness for Duty evaluation.

Southwest declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit to PYOK as the litigation is pending. But company spokesperson Lynn Lunsford said in a statement to the outlet that Southwest stood behind its decision to fire Legaros.

“Southwest expects all of its Pilots to follow procedures and policies that exist to protect the safety of our Customers and Employees,” the airline said in a statement.

“Southwest stands behind its decision to dismiss Mr. Legeros and will respond to any claims in the appropriate forum.”

The Independent has contacted Southwest for further comment.

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