Woman killed after Southwest engine blows out mid-air

Woman killed after Southwest engine blows out mid-air

PHILADELPHIA — A Southwest Airlines jet blew an engine at 32,000 feet and got hit by shrapnel that smashed a window, setting off a desperate scramble by passengers to save a woman from getting sucked out.

Passengers dragged the woman back in as the sudden decompression of the cabin pulled her part way through the opening, but she was gravely injured. She later died, and seven others were injured.

The woman was identified as Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was the first passenger killed in an accident involving a U.S. airline since 2009. The seven other victims suffered minor injuries.

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 used oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling.

The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team of investigators to Philadelphia.

In a late night news conference, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said a preliminary examination of the engine showed evidence of “metal fatigue”. One of the engine’s fan blades was separated and missing. The blade was separated at the point where it would come into the hub and there was evidence of metal fatigue, Sumwalt said.

The engine will be examined further to understand what caused the failure. An investigation could take 12 to 15 months. Photos of the plane on the tarmac showed a missing window and a chunk gone from the left engine, including part of its cover. Sumwalt said part of the engine covering was found in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles (112 kilometres) west of Philadelphia.

Southwest said Tuesday night that as a precaution it would inspect similar engines in its fleet over the next 30 days.

In an official statement, Southwest Airlines Co. expressed its remorse over the incident.

“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,” said the statement.

Gary Kelly, Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, also posted a video on YouTube to provide an update:

The last time a passenger died in an accident on a U.S. airliner was 2009 when 49 people on board and one on the ground were killed when a plane operated by Colgan Air for Continental Connection crashed on a house near Buffalo, New York.


With file from The Associated Press / Alexandra Villarreal And David Koenig

Get travel news right to your inbox!