What to Know
- Flight 1380 was headed from LaGuardia to Dallas with 149 people on board when the flight suffered catastrophic engine failure.
- Passengers report a woman was partially pulled out of the airplane and that nearby passengers pulled her back into the cabin.
- NTSB officials confirm one fatality. Philadelphia FD said a dozen other passengers were evaluated and none required hospitalization.
A passenger on-board a Southwest Airlines flight to Dallas died Tuesday morning when a catastrophic engine failure apparently sent shrapnel into the aircraft, shattering a window and causing the plane to suddenly depressurize at more than 30,000 feet, officials say.
The passenger, identified as Jennifer Riordan, was a bank executive with Wells Fargo and mother of two from New Mexico. The coroner said late Wednesday afternoon that Riordan, who was partially pulled from the plane as it depressurized, was killed by shrapnel that was hurled through her window and that she died of blunt impact trauma of head, neck and torso.
News of Riordan's death was first shared by the assistant principal of the Albuquerque Catholic school attended by her two children. In an email to parents, assistant principal Amy McCarty wrote that "the family needs all the prayers we can offer."
The flight, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 from LaGuardia to Dallas Love, with 149 people on board, was climbing through 32,500 feet at about 10:03 a.m., according to data from FlightAware, when passengers reporting hearing what sounded like a series of explosions.
That noise apparently came from the port-side engine which sent debris shooting into the aircraft's wing and fuselage. The debris also shattered a window, causing the plane to suddenly and violently depressurize.
The crew quickly descended and diverted to Philadelphia International Airport, advising airport officials they had an engine failure, a possible fuel leak and injured passengers on board.
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Upon arrival, the aircraft was immediately surrounded by firefighters who doused a small engine fire and boarded the aircraft.
Though it's not immediately clear what caused the engine damage, aerial video from WCAU-TV in Philadelphia showed the engine cowling shredded and ripped away as well as major damage to the engine.
In a press conference Tuesday night, the NTSB announced that one of the fan blades was missing from the engine and that investigators had found metal fatigue where the fan blade attached to the hub. Officials also said that a part of the engine cowling was found about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
The NTSB is now dispatching a team to Dallas to review inspection and maintenance records at Southwest's headquarters. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly also has told the NTSB that the company will start conducting enhanced inspections on the entire fleet immediately.
In a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia airport officials confirmed one passenger was critically injured but refused to say anymore about the person's condition. Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel confirmed a dozen others were evaluated, though only seven required treatment and none required hospitalization.
Following the airport news conference, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt confirmed one of the passengers died. The death is the first passenger fatality in a U.S. airline accident since 2009.
Riordan was a vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo bank. She was the wife of Michael Riordan, who until recently served as the chief operating officer for the city of Albuquerque.
The New Mexico Broadcasters Association said on social media Riordan was a graduate of the University of New Mexico and former board member.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines said late Tuesday morning they were working to gather more information about what happened both on-board and with the engine.
"Safety is always our top priority at Southwest Airlines and we are working diligently to support our customers and crews at this time," Southwest said.
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly posted a video statement on YouTube Tuesday afternoon where he confirmed the death of a passenger as a "tragic loss."
"This is a sad day and on behalf of the entire Southwest family I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family and the loved ones of our deceased customer. They are our immediate and primary concern and we will do all that we can to support them during this difficult time and the difficult days ahead," said Kelly. "I am immensely grateful there are no other reports of injuries, but truly this is a tragic loss."
Todd Baur, the father-in-law of a passenger on the flight, spoke with NBC 5 late Tuesday morning. Reciting his daughter-in-law's account of the ordeal, Bauer said after the engine failure an injured female passenger was partially pulled from the aircraft and that nearby passengers had to pull her back inside the cabin.
Amanda Bourman said she was seated near the back and was asleep when she heard a loud noise and oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. She said the plane was fairly quiet because everyone was wearing a mask, while some passengers were in tears and others shouted words of encouragement.
"I just remember holding my husband's hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed," said Bourman. "And the thoughts that were going through my head of course were about my daughters, just wanting to see them again and give them a big hug so they wouldn't grow up without parents."
"Everybody was crying and upset," she said. "You had a few passengers that were very strong and they kept yelling to people, you know, `It's OK, we're going to do this."'
As the plane descended, one terrified passenger, Marty Martinez, began broadcasting live on Facebook fearing the aircraft was going to crash. Photographs and broken, grainy video posted by Martinez showed the oxygen masks had been deployed and a shattered window in the main cabin.
"Something is wrong with our plane! It appears we are going down! Emergency landing! Southwest flight from NYC to Dallas!" Facebook user Marty Martinez wrote. He then added, "We are bracing for landing!"
Bourman said that everyone started yelling to brace for impact when the plane started to land. Everyone clapped and praised the pilot after she set the aircraft down.
Afterward, Bourman said she saw first responders using a defibrillator to help a woman who had been removed from the plane.
John Goglia, a former NTSB member, said investigators will take the Southwest engine apart to understand what happened and will look at maintenance records for the engine.
"There's a ring around the engine that's meant to contain the engine pieces when this happens. In this case it didn't. That's going to be a big focal point for the NTSB -- why didn't (the ring) do its job?" Goglia said "We're pushing the engines to produce as much power as possible," he said. "We're right on the edge. Sometimes they fail, and that's why the containment ring is there."
In August 2016 a titanium fan blade separated from an engine on one of Southwest's Boeing 737-700s and sliced a hole in the fuselage above the left wing. That flight, too, experienced depressurization and made an emergency landing though the damage didn't penetrate the cabin.
Before Tuesday, Southwest had never had an accident-related fatality of a passenger, although a young boy died in 2006 when a Southwest jet skidded off a runway at Chicago's Midway Airport, crashed through a fence and collided with the boy's family's car. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said at a news conference in Dallas Tuesday that there were no problems with the plane or its engine when it was last inspected April 15.
The FAA and the NTSB are investigating Tuesday's incident. Boeing said Tuesday they are aware of the incident and are ready to assist in the investigation if needed.
Southwest has about 700 planes, all of them 737s, including more than 500 737-700s like the one involved in Tuesday's emergency landing. It is the world's largest operator of the 737. The Boeing 737 is the best-selling jetliner in the world and has a good safety record.
Credit: Marty Martinez via Storyful
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