Woman dies after being partially sucked out plane window on US flight

Plane violently depressurized after fragments from the explosion burst through window

An engine on a Southwest Airlines flight with 149 people aboard exploded in mid-air, killing one passenger. Video: Reuters

 

A woman was killed and seven people suffered minor injuries on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas when an engine exploded in midair on Tuesday, shattering a window that passengers said partially sucked the woman out of the aircraft.

The explosion, which officials said happened about 20 minutes into the flight, prompted a desperate effort among flight attendants and passengers to save the woman, Jennifer Riordan (43), a Wells Fargo banking executive and community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“I think, like most passengers, I thought I was going to die,” Matt Tranchin (34) said. The episode was the first time a passenger had died in an accident on a United States airline since 2009.

The plane, Flight 1380, which made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport at 11.20 am EST (4.20pm Irish time), quickly lost altitude after the explosion and violently depressurised after fragments from the explosion burst through the window, said Max Kraidelman (20) a college student who was on the flight.

Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a news conference late on Tuesday that multiple alerts sounded in the cockpit. Soon after the explosion, Ms Riordan, was partially sucked out through the broken window, Mr Kraidelman said.

“The top half of her torso was out the window,” he said. “There was a lot of blood because she was hit by some of the shrapnel coming off the engine after it exploded.” Mr Kraidelman said passengers and flight attendants struggled “to drag her back into the aircraft.” When they did, she was unconscious and seriously injured, and flight attendants and passengers tried to revive her.

Upon seeing the scene, one flight attendant began to cry, Mr Tranchin said. “They were doing CPR on her and using the defibrillator while we were landing,” Mr Kraidelman said. “They were working on her while everyone else had their oxygen mask on.”

Passenger screams

Mr Tranchin said one of the passengers helping had at one point placed his lower back up against the opening in the plane, in an apparent effort to help with the compression. The man did this for the next 20 minutes, Mr Tranchin said, adding that the man later told him that the pressure at his back had been extreme.

In the meantime, passengers wept and screamed for roughly 10 or 15 minutes, oxygen masks strapped to their faces, Mr Kraidelman said. Mr Tranchin said he spent those precious minutes texting goodbyes to people important in his life. “It’s a wild experience,” he said. “It’s not a couple minutes of freaking out and frantically saying goodbye; it’s 25 minutes of sustained fear that this was the end.”

“What do you say to your pregnant wife and your parents in your final moments?” he added. “That’s what I was trying to figure out.” Mr Tranchin said he wanted his wife to tell his son how important it is to follow his dreams; he wanted to tell her to find love again.

About two minutes before the plane landed, passengers got mobile phone reception, so he called his wife and told her they were about to make the emergency landing.

As the craft descended, “it was shaking, it was vibrating, it was tilting to one side,” Mr Kraidelman said. “At that point,” Tranchin said, “I thought I had a better than 50-50 chance of surviving.” “You can see the ground, we’re level,” he continued. “It’s crash landing, but it’s doable.” That the landing ended up being smooth was “nothing short of extraordinary,” he said.

Colleagues and friends of Ms Riordan said she was a wife and mother of two who had been a scholarship winner at the University of New Mexico and had served on a school board.

“Today, Albuquerque lost a thoughtful leader who has long been part of the fabric of our community,” the mayor, Tim Keller, said. “Her leadership and philanthropic efforts made this a better place every day and she will be terribly missed.” Gary Kelly, the chief executive of Southwest Airlines, said in a video posted to YouTube, “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.”

Single engine

The flight, which was on its way from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas Love Field, was a Boeing 737 with 144 passengers and five Southwest employees on board, officials said. The crew initially reported that they had an engine fire, Mr Sumwalt said. They later clarified that there was no fire, but said that the plane was operating with a single engine – and that parts of it were missing. Mr Sumwalt said an engine cowling was later discovered in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 110km northwest of Philadelphia.

Once the plane was on the ground, investigators discovered that a fan blade was missing from the plane’s operating engine. It appeared to have been separated at what Mr Sumwalt called “the hub”.

“Our preliminary examination of this was that there’s evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated,” he said. Sumwalt said he had spoken with Kelly, who said Southwest Airlines will begin “enhanced inspection procedures” on their entire fleet. “We are taking this event very seriously,” Mr Sumwalt said. “This should not happen.”

A similar episode occurred in August 2016 when a Southwest Airlines flight headed to Orlando, Florida, made an emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, because of engine failure, according to The Associated Press. Although some photos had made it appear as if the engine had blown apart, the airline later said there had been no explosion. That episode also involved a Boeing 737. – New York Times