A woman died on Tuesday when a Southwest Airlines jet blew one of its two engines at 32,000 feet. The plane was hit by pieces of the engine that smashed a window, setting off a desperate scramble by passengers to save Jennifer Riordan from getting sucked out. She later died, and seven others were injured.
Passengers dragged the woman back in as the sudden loss of pressure in the cabin pulled her part way through the opening, but she was gravely injured.
The pilots of the plane, a twin-engine Boeing 737 bound from New York to Dallas with 149 people aboard, took it into a rapid descent and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia as passengers using oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling said their prayers and braced for impact.
“I just remember holding my husband’s hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed,” said passenger Amanda Bourman, of New York. “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.”
The dead woman was identified as Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The seven other victims suffered minor injuries.
Passengers commended one of the pilots for her cool-headed handling of the emergency. She walked through the aisle and talked to them, to make sure they were OK after the plane touched down.
“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her,” said Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas.
Tracking data from FlightAware.com showed Flight 1380 was heading west over Pennsylvania at about 32,200 feet (10 km) and traveling 500 mph (800 kph) when it abruptly turned toward Philadelphia.
Bourman said she was asleep near the back when she heard a loud noise and oxygen masks dropped.
“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!’”
In a recording of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic controllers, an unidentified crew member reported that there was a hole in the plane and “someone went out.”
Tumlinson said a man in a cowboy hat, later identified as Tim McGinty, rushed forward a few rows “to grab that lady to 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.”
Another passenger, Eric Zilbert, said: “From her waist above, she was outside of the plane.”
Passengers struggled to somehow plug the hole while giving the badly injured woman CPR.
Passengers did “some pretty amazing things under some pretty difficult circumstances,” Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.
As the plane came in for a landing, everyone started yelling to brace for impact, then clapped after the aircraft touched down safely, Bourman said.
“We were very lucky to have such a skilled pilot and crew to see us through it,” Zilbert said. “The plane was steady as a rock after it happened. I didn’t have any fearing that it was out of control.”
No one yet knew it, but the No. 13 fan blade - out of 24 total - had separated from the hub at the base. Investigators would find evidence of metal fatigue.
For those on board the danger would play out for what felt like hours.
When the plane came in to land, the cabin was now largely silent. Everyone wore oxygen masks.
Flight attendants ordered passengers to brace for impact. People could see water below.
“Everybody breathe!” a crew member yelled, in a video posted by a passenger. “We are almost landing. Everybody breathe. We are almost there.”
The plane, shaking hard, rushed toward the runway. “Brace! Brace!” some shouted. Others shouted encouragement.
Over the sound system: “Heads down! Stay down!”
The plane came in fast, about 165 knots, or 190 mph, instead of the typical 135 knots. The wheels touched and rolled. Emergency vehicles surrounded the aircraft. Riordan, the Albuquerque bank executive, would soon be pronounced dead - killed, according to the Philadelphia medical examiner, by “blunt impact trauma of the head, neck, and torso.”
Others were treated for minor injuries.
It was the first passenger fatality on a US carrier since 2009, federal officials said, and the first passenger fatality in Southwest’s 51-year history.