Southwest Airlines jet engine 'explosion' leaves woman dead

  • Published
Media caption,

Jennifer Riordan died after being partially sucked out of the window

A woman who was partially sucked out of a window of a US passenger plane after an engine exploded in mid-air has died.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a window, wings and fuselage were damaged. Seven passengers were injured.

Initial findings say an engine fan blade was missing. In a recording, one of the pilots can be heard saying "there is a hole and someone went out".

The last passenger death on a US commercial flight was in 2009.

Media caption,

Video shows exploded plane engine

The Boeing 737-700 had been en route from New York's La Guardia airport to Dallas, Texas, with 143 passengers and five crew when the incident happened.

Witnesses say an engine on the plane's left side blew, smashing a window and causing cabin depressurisation that nearly sucked the woman out of the aircraft.

She was pulled back in by other passengers.

Image source, United Way of Central New Mexico
Image caption,
Jennifer Riordan was a mother-of-two and bank vice-president

The plane made a safe landing at 11:20 (15:20 GMT), fire officials said.

The victim was Jennifer Riordan, a mother-of-two and bank vice-president at Wells Fargo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the air traffic control recording released by NBC News, pilot Tammie Jo Shults is heard saying: "We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit."

Asked if the plane is on fire, she says it is not but adds: "They said there is a hole and someone went out."

Image source, Twitter/ @mtranchin
Image caption,
Passenger images shows a broken window and oxygen masks deployed

The former Navy pilot was at the controls when the plane landed.

The US Federal Aviation Administration has opened an investigation.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said a preliminary investigation had revealed that an engine fan blade was missing and there was evidence of metal fatigue at the point where it had apparently broken off.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said part of the cowling - the engine's covering - was found in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles (112km) from Philadelphia.

"It is very unusual so we are taking this event extremely seriously," he said, adding that the investigation could take 12 to 15 months.

Mr Sumwalt told reporters the type of engine, a CFM56, is "very widely used in commercial transport".

Southwest Airlines said it was accelerating its inspection programme for CFM56 engines "out of an abundance of caution" and said inspections should be completed over the next 30 days.

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In a statement, Southwest said it was "devastated" and extended sympathy to all those affected by the "tragic event".

The Philadelphia Fire Department said one passenger had been taken to hospital in a critical condition while seven other people were treated for minor injuries at the scene.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
NTSB investigators say a fan blade apparently broke off in the engine

Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel told a news conference that passengers and crew "did some pretty amazing things under very difficult circumstances".

First responders "found a fuel leak and small fire in one of the engines", he said, adding that they used foam to extinguish the flames.

'Loud bang'

Images have been shared on social media showing passengers sitting in oxygen masks as the plane shudders around them.

"All of a sudden, we heard this loud bang, rattling..." said one passenger.

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"It just shredded the left-side engine completely... it was scary," Kristopher Johnson told CNN.

Timothy Bourman, a pastor from New York City, told the Philadelphia Inquirer he had been sitting in the rear of the plane when he heard a loud boom.

"All the sudden, it felt like we dropped 100 feet," he said.

"We were kind of out of control for a while. It seemed like the pilot was having a hard time controlling the plane. Honestly I think we just all thought we were going down."

When flight attendants told passengers to brace for impact, Mr Bourman said he and his wife worried for the worst.

"We're just all really thankful to be alive right now," he said. "Thankful to God, thankful to that pilot."

Passenger Marty Martinez posted a brief Facebook live with the caption: "Something is wrong with our plane! It appears we are going down! Emergency landing!! Southwest flight from NYC to Dallas!!"

After landing, he told CBS News that it felt like the plane was "free-falling", and added that he saw one injured woman being taken off the plane by rescuers.

"There was blood everywhere," he said.

"First there was an explosion and then almost immediately the oxygen masks came down and probably within a matter of 10 seconds the engine hit a window and busted it wide open."