Horror unfolded in the in the skies over Pennsylvania yesterday as a Southwest flight 1380 from New York abruptly ended its planned journey to Dallas. About 20 minutes into the trip, an engine fire was reported just as the jet was at an altitude of about 32-thousand feet and it began an emergency descent into Philadelphia.
Witnesses say that something had smashed into a window, shattering it – and the passenger later identified as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan – was sucked into the opening. In the resulting chaos, two passengers pulled Riordan back in and seven others were injured. While the plane made a safe emergency landing, and Riordan was transported to a local hospital, but later died. More than 140 people were on board the Boeing 737-700. This was the first fatality on a domestic carrier since 2009.
While the investigation has only just begun, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt says an initial inspection of the plane has found evidence of metal fatigue in one of the fan blades of the engine that failed - and one of those blades has not yet been recovered. Sumwalt added the NTSB is interested in seeing any photos or videos of what happened. The cowling of the engine was reportedly found in the area of Bernville, Pennsylvania.
Riordan, who lived in Albuquerque with her family, is survived by husband Mike and their two young children. The family has issued the following statement: “Jennifer Riordan has passed away as a result of previously reported events on Southwest Airlines flight #1380. Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured. But foremost, she is the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children. We are so appreciative of the outpouring of support from family, friends and our community. We do ask that those who seek to express their condolences and prayers as well as media outlets respect our privacy at this time. Our family and friends need this time to both grieve and celebrate Jennifer’s impact on us all. In her memory--please remember to always be kind, loving, caring, and sharing."
Southwest Airlines has also spoken out in a written statement as well as a video posted online with remarks from Southwest CEO Gary Kelly. “We are deeply saddened to confirm that there is one fatality resulting from this accident. The entire Southwest Airlines Family is devastated and extends its deepest heartfelt sympathy to the customers, employees, family members, and loved ones affected by this tragic event. We have activated our emergency response team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy."
FAST FACT: The flight tracking website FlightRadar24 estimated Southwest flight 1380 descended from 31,684-feet to about 10,000-feet in a little over five minutes in the wake of the incident. The safe landing is being credited to pilot Tammie Jo Shults. A former Navy pilot, Shults was also one of the first women to fly an F-18. And in the aftermath once everyone was safely on the ground? Shults personally greeted every passenger.