Video: Southwest Airlines passenger dies after being partially sucked out of window
18 April 2018
Plane makes emergency landing in Philadelphia after debris from exploded engine smashes window at 32,000 feet
A woman has died after she was partially sucked out of a window on a Southwest Airlines plane that was hit by debris from a blown engine at an altitude of 32,000ft.
Passengers scrambled to haul Jennifer Riordan back into the aircraft as the sudden decompression of the cabin pulled her partway through the opening, but she later died.
Seven other people were injured. The pilots of the twin-engine Boeing 737, travelling from New York to Dallas with 149 people onboard, were widely praised for showing “nerves of steel” after they took the plane into a rapid descent and made a successful emergency landing in
Passengers said oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling and they were instructed to brace for impact, leaving some in tears, while others shouted encouragement. In a recording of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic controllers, the captain, Tammie Jo Shults, reported that there was a hole in the plane and “someone went out”.
A passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, from Corpus Christi, Texas, said a man in a cowboy hat had rushed forward a few rows to grab Riordan and pull her back in. “She was out of the plane. He couldn’t do it by himself, so another gentleman came over and helped to get her back in the plane, and they got her,” he said.
Another passenger, Marty Martinez, said people were screaming. “Passengers right next to her were holding on to [Riordan]. And, meanwhile, there was blood all over this man’s hands. He was tending to her.” Passengers then struggled to somehow plug the hole while giving Riordan CPR.
Images of the plane on the tarmac showed a missing window and damage to the left engine, including part of its cover. A piece of the engine covering was later found in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles west of Philadelphia, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The NTSB said a preliminary examination of the engine showed evidence of metal fatigue. A full investigation is expected to take 12 to 15 months. The last passenger death on a US commercial flight was in 2009.
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David Gleave, an aviation safety investigator based at Loughborough University described the incident as a “completely freak event”, caused by an unlikely series of coincidences, each of which would have to be examined in detail.
“Why did the engine fail? Why did the engine fall apart? And why did the blade get thrown forward out of the engine and hit a window? It’s an unfortunate series of things, but that’s what we need to get to the bottom of,” he said.
Gleave said the engine’s metal cowling, or cover, should have prevented any parts flying out. Design flaws, manufacturing or maintenance issues were all possible explanations for what happened, he said.
Passengers said Shults walked through the aisle and talked with them to make sure they were OK after the plane had touched down. “She has nerves of steel,” said Tumlinson. “That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card, I’m going to tell you that, with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”
The US transport secretary, Elaine Chao, said the pilot, crew and others onboard had prevented a greater tragedy.
Shults was among the first female fighter pilots in the US military, according to friends and the alumni group at her alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University.
Amanda Bourman, a passenger from New York, said everyone had started shouting to brace for impact when the plane prepared to land. “I just remember holding my husband’s hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed.
And the thoughts that were going through my head, of course, were about my daughters, just wanting to see them again.
”She said she was seated near the back of the plane asleep, when she heard a loud noise and oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. Bourman said the plane was fairly quiet because everyone was wearing a mask but added: “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’.
”The airline said in a statement that the fatality was the first of its kind in Southwest’s 51-year history and extended its sympathy to all those affected.
Gary Kelly, Southwest’s chief executive, said there were no problems with the plane or its engine when had been inspected on Sunday. Nevertheless, the airline announced on Tuesday night that it would inspect similar engines in its fleet over the next 30 days as a precaution.
A Southwest Boeing 737-700 blew an engine in 2016 as it flew from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida, and shrapnel tore a 5-by-16 inch (12-by-40cm) hole just above the wing. The plane landed safely. The NTSB said a fan blade had broken off, apparently because of metal fatigue.
Gleave said the cause of the 2016 incident was still to be fully determined, but now that it had reoccurred there was greater urgency to do so because there were 2,000 737s in the air at any one time.
Riordan, from New Mexico, was the vice-president for community relations at Wells Fargo bank, working with non-profit groups.
The Albuquerque mayor, Tim Keller, said the city had “lost a thoughtful leader who has long been part of the fabric of our community”.
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