There’s a series of steps that need to happen before a passenger airliner pushes back from the gate to go fly off into the distance. One of the more important parts of that process is the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft. The pilot (or, more often, the lowly first officer — especially if its raining) walks around the exterior of the aircraft and inspects it for any damage or if anything looks out of the ordinary. The hope is that the process would catch any issues before the aircraft even left the gate, much less left the ground. It looks like a couple LATAM pilots may have missed something on their pre-flight: a bullet hole in the wing of their aircraft.
According to sources the bullet hole was discovered in the wing of the aircraft during a routine inspection at the LATAM maintenance facility in Brazil. Routine maintenance is carried out on commercial aircraft either every 100 flight hours or according to a government approved maintenance schedule.
The wings of an aircraft are more than just mechanics, they also contain the main fuel tanks for the flight as well as hydraulic lines which allow pilots to manipulate the control surfaces on the wing and direct the aircraft to turn. Even a small hole in one of these systems would be catastrophic. In 2007 a China Airlines 737 caught fire and burned to the ground after a loose bolt made a small hole in the fuel tank. A 1989 United Airlines crash killed 112 people when the hydraulic systems were bled dry and the pilots could no longer properly control the aircraft.
LATAM says that they aren’t sure where the plane was located when the damage occurred, as the aircraft has been flying numerous routes around the world to locations including New York. A similar incident happened to a US Airways Boeing 737 in 2011, but that hole was detected during the pre-flight inspection and the aircraft did not carry any passengers in that condition.