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Southwest Airlines passenger killed after being partially sucked out of plane window is named

Jet inspected two days before engine explosion shattered cabin window

Chris Baynes
Thursday 19 April 2018 14:47 BST
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'I'm sorry, there's a hole and someone went out?': Audio released from Southwest Airlines emergency landing after explosion

A passenger who died after being partially sucked out of a shattered plane window following an engine explosion has been named as Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother-of-two.

The banking executive was travelling home to her family following a business trip when she was hit by shrapnel after the Boeing 737 blew an engine at 32,000ft on a flight from New York to Dallas.

Ms Riordan was identified as Southwest Airlines revealed its jet had been inspected just two days before the mid-air explosion.

The vice-president of community relations at Wells Fargo bank was dragged head first through a window which had been smashed by engine fragments, causing sudden decompression of the cabin.

Fellow passengers fought to pull her back inside.

“From her waist above, she was outside of the plane,” said passenger Eric Zilbert.

Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, said a man in a cowboy hat rushed forward a few rows “to grab that lady to pull her back in”.

He added: “She was out of the plane. He couldn’t do it by himself, so another gentleman came over and helped to get her back in the plane, and they got her.”

Passengers gave CPR to Ms Riordan, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, while others struggled to plug the window as pilots began a rapid descent before performing an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Passengers did “some pretty amazing things under some pretty difficult circumstances”, said Philadelphia fire commissioner Adam Thiel.

Ms Riordan later died from her injuries.

She is the first person to die in an accident involving a US airline in nine years.

Her Facebook page shows she was married to husband Michael and had two children.

In a statement issued to Texas TV news station WFAA, her family said: “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.”

Before she set off, she sent a tweet showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan, captioning the photo: “Great business stay.”

Jennifer Riordan was flying home from a business trip when she was killed (AP)

Ms Riordan led volunteer work in New Mexico and built a career over more than two decades in community relations and communications.

Mike English, a spokesman for Wells Fargo in New Mexico, said Ms Riordan “was a well-known leader who was loved and respected”.

Seven other passengers on the plane suffered minor injuries.

Some of the 149 people on board said prayers as they braced for impact before landing, using oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling during the descent.

“I just remember holding my husband’s hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed,” said Amanda Bourman, of New York. “And the thoughts that were going through my head of course were about my daughters, just wanting to see them again and give them a big hug so they wouldn’t grow up without parents.

“Everybody was crying and upset. You had a few passengers that were very strong, and they kept yelling to people, you know, ‘It’s OK. We’re going to do this’.”

Passengers clapped as the jet landed at 11.27am on Tuesday and praised pilot Tammie Jo Shults for averting a disaster.

Shrapnel from the plane’s engine smashed through the plane’s window forcing and emergency landing (Marty Martinez)

“She has nerves of steel,” said Mr Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas. “That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card, I’m going to tell you that, with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”

Tracking data from FlightAware.com showed Flight 1380 was heading west over Pennsylvania at about 32,200 feet and travelling 500 mph when pilots were forced to abruptly divert to Philadelphia.

In a recorded conversation between the cockpit and air traffic controllers, the pilot is heard asking for emergency services to be ready for the landing.

Ms Shults, a former US Navy fighter pilot, said at the time: “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well. We’ve got injured passengers.”

Asked if the plane was on fire, she said: “Not on fire but part of it is missing. They said there’s a hole and someone went out.”

National Transportation Safety Board investigators examine damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane (Reuters)

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has sent a team of investigators to Philadelphia. Preliminary examination of the engine showed evidence of “metal fatigue”, it said.

One of the engine’s fan blades was separated and missing, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt told a news conference.

Photos of the plane on the tarmac showed a missing window and a chunk gone from the left engine, including part of its cover.

Mr Sumwalt said part of the engine covering was found in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles west of Philadelphia.

A full investigation into what caused the failure could take 12 to 15 months.

“It is very unusual so we are taking this event extremely seriously,” Mr Sumwalt said. “This should not happen and we want to find out why it happened so that preventative measures can be put in place.”

Pilot Tammie Jo Shults was hailed a hero by passengers

Southwest said the plane had passed an inspection over the weekend. The airline’s chief executive officer Gary Kelly said there were no problems with the plane or engine when it was last examined.

John Goglia, a former NTSB member, said investigators would take the plane’s engine apart to understand what happened and will look at maintenance records for the engine.

“There’s a ring around the engine that’s meant to contain the engine pieces when this happens,” he added. “In this case it didn’t. That’s going to be a big focal point for the NTSB – why didn’t [the ring] do its job?”

Southwest said Ms Riordan’s death was the first fatality of its kind in the carrier’s 51-year history.

Republican governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez paid tribute to “an incredible woman who put her family and community first”, and said her loss would be felt across the state.

“The hearts of all New Mexicans are with the Riordan family,” she added.

Before starting at Wells Fargo in 2008, Ms Riordan had worked for the University of New Mexico hospital system in public relations, and for Citigroup.

At Wells Fargo she managed employee volunteering and board service to non-profit groups in New Mexico and parts of Texas. She also served on numerous boards and oversaw the annual United Way community campaign.

Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller said his thoughts and prayers were with Ms Riordan’s family.

“Today, Albuquerque lost a thoughtful leader who has long been part of the fabric of our community,” he said, adding that Ms Riordan’s leadership and philanthropic efforts “made this a better place every day and she will be terribly missed”.

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