One person was killed and seven others sustained minor injuries on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas when an engine exploded in midair. The explosion occurred about 20 minutes into the flight, shattering a window that passengers said partially sucked a woman out of the aircraft. The Southwest plane, a two-engine Boeing 737, made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport at about 11:20 a.m. Flight 1380 was on its way from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field with 144 passengers and five Southwest employees on board.
It quickly lost altitude after the explosion and violently depressurized after shrapnel from the explosion burst through the window. Passengers said the window burst and the woman, identified as 43 year old Jennifer Riordan, was partially sucked out of the 10-by-14-inch window head first. Firefighter Andrew Needum, of Celina, Texas, said he heard a “loud pop” moments after flight attendants had begun to take drink orders. Needum, seated next to his father and son, turned back to see that oxygen masks had deployed in the cabin and there was a commotion a few rows behind him. When he rushed to row 14, passenger Tim McGinty was trying to pull Riordan back inside the plane. Needum helped McGinty pull Riordan back inside the plane but she was unconscious and seriously injured.
Passenger Peggy Phillips, a retired nurse and an emergency medical technician onboard laid the woman down and immediately began administering CPR, while the pilot urged everyone to brace for an emergency landing. They continued CPR for the entire 20 minutes until the plane landed safely and airports EMT’s took over. Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesman James Garrow said Jennifer Riordan, a mother of two and Wells Fargo executive from Albuquerque, died of blunt force trauma to her head, neck and torso and that her death was listed as an accident.
For that terrifying 20 minutes, passengers and flight crew unsuccessfully tried to plug the hole with luggage and clothing, which was just sucked out of the broken window. Finally, another brave passenger stood in front of the broken window with his lower back covering the hole to help maintain cabin pressure. Other terrified passengers spent those minutes thinking they were their last. Many were scrambling for phones and other electronic devices to record their final goodbyes or purchase wifi to contact loved ones.
Southwest captain Tammie Jo Shults, a former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy, on her final approach to an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport calmly described conditions on the craft to the air traffic controller:
“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” said Shults,. “We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.” She asked for medical personnel to meet the aircraft on the runway. “We’ve got injured passengers.”
“Injured passengers, okay, and is your airplane physically on fire?” asked the air traffic controller.
“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Shults said, pausing for a moment. “They said there’s a hole, and, uh, someone went out.”
The National Transportation Safety Board has said the principal culprit of the explosion was a fracture — most likely because of metal fatigue — of one of the 24 fan blades in the engine. When that blade broke away at the fan’s hub, it carried with it parts of the engine cowling and related engine parts.