In what was the first fatality on a Southwest Airlines, or any US airline, flight in nearly a decade, a former Wells Fargo vice president and mother of 2 from Albuquerque, New Mexico died Tuesday afternoon after being partially sucked out of a broken window in the cabin of a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas.
While the cause of death hasn’t been released (the woman was nearly sucked out of the plane by the sudden depressurization and she was also hit with shrapnel following the explosion of one of the plane’s engines), investigators from the NTSB have reportedly discovered the cause of the accident: they attribute yesterday’s fatal accident to “metal fatigue” in the damaged engine that would explain why one of the propeller spokes dislodged and wrecked the engine, according to CNN.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board got a preliminary look at the engine that ailed. One of 24 fan blades was missing, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in Philadelphia. Sumwalt said a first look showed there was evidence of metal fatigue where the blade attached to a hub.
Meanwhile, survivors of the crash have been appearing on CNN and speaking with US media organizations about their experience. Many of them described frantically trying to send what they believed would be their last message to loved ones. Marty Martinez described rushing to purchase wi-fi so he could contact loved ones.
“Everybody was going crazy, and yelling and screaming,” passenger Marty Martinez said of the flight, which left New York and was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia.
“As the plane is going down, I am literally purchasing internet just so I can get some kind of communication to the outside world,” he said.
“I didn’t know if we were going to be running into a building. I didn’t know what state the plane or even the pilot was in, if we were in condition to land,” he said. “It was just all incredibly traumatic, and finally when we … came to a halt, of course, the entire crowd was (in) tears and people crying and we were just thankful to be alive.”
Another passenger, 34-year-old Matt Tranchin, said he believed he was going to die.
“I think, like most passengers, I thought I was going to die,” Tranchin said.
He then described how the crew frantically tried to plug the hole left by the shattered window.
“Flight attendants rushed up. There was momentary chaos. Everyone kind of descended on where this hole was,” he said.
One passenger described watching the engine explode.
The plane had suffered damage to one of its engines, and according to passenger Kristopher Johnson, who was sitting near the front of Flight 1380, debris from the engine flew into the window, breaking it and injuring a woman sitting nearby.
“Shrapnel hit the window causing a serious injury. No other details about that. Several medical personnel on the flight tended to the injured passenger,” Johnson said.
The crew reported damage to one of the aircraft’s engines as well as the fuselage and a window, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
— Kristopher Johnson (@EMMS_MrJohnson) April 17, 2018
Another described how the shrapnel wounds sustained by Jennifer Riordan, the woman who died, were so severe that, by the time passengers managed to pull her back into the plane, there was “blood all over this man’s hands”
The injured woman’s arms and body were sucked toward the opening in the plane, Martinez recalled in a phone interview. Objects flew out the hole where the window had been, and “passengers right next to her were holding onto her. And meanwhile, there was blood all over this man’s hands. He was tending to her,” said Martinez, who was sitting a row or two away from the woman.
Other passengers began trying to plug the hole with jackets and other objects, but to no avail. They were also sucked out of the plane. Martinez said he believed he would die. Nor did his colleague in an adjacent seat who was scrambling to write one last message to his wife and unborn son, he said.
The flight tracking website FlightRadar24 estimated the Boeing 737-700 descended from 31,684 feet to about 10,000 feet in a little over five minutes.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) April 17, 2018
“We could feel the air from the outside coming in, and then we had smoke kind of coming in the window. Meanwhile, you have passengers that were in that aisle, trying to attend to the woman that was bleeding from the window explosion,” he said. “That was just chaos all around.” The plane descended precipitously, Johnson said, but the pilot regained control and informed passengers the flight was headed to Philadelphia.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly provided more information in a press conference late Tuesday.
“The crew did a great job,” he said. He also confirmed that the plane had been inspected on April 15, but Kelly had no details on what exactly had been examined. “I’m not aware of any issues with the airplane or any issues with the engine involved,” Kelly said at a news conference. The engine had 40,000 cycles on it, a quarter of those since it was overhauled, he said.
In addition to Riordan, who was killed, seven people – including one crew member – were injured during the incident.
Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said earlier that one of the 149 passengers and crew members on board was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Seven others were treated for minor injuries.
As the Feds begin their investigation, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the airliner’s flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were sent to Washington, where they will be examined. Boeing added that it is providing technical assistance in the investigation.
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According to data from the flight recorder, the plane was flying at 32,500 feet when, about 20 minutes into the flight, the engine failed. Sumwalt said part of the inquiry will look at the CFM International 56 turbofan engine.
Notably, the FAA issued an airworthiness directive last year on the CFM56-7B version that would have required inspection of the fan blades.
“There are various iterations of that (engine) and so I can’t say exactly what that airworthiness directive might have applied to at this point, but that will be part of our investigation,” he said.
Later, Sumwalt said the cowling for the engine was found about 70 miles from where the plane landed.
Of course, this isn’t the only malfunction of a Southwest plane in recent years. In August 2016, a Southwest Airlines 737 flying from New Orleans to Orlando was forced to make an emergency landing in Pensacola, Fla. when an engine failed.
Southwest said this is the first death from an in-flight incident in company history.
But given the fact that there have now been two “uncontained” engine failures involving the CFM56-7, one journalist who covers the aerospace industry is questioning why the FAA hasn’t grounded all of these planes for an emergency safety inspection.
Two uncontained CFM56-7 engine failures due to metal fatigue in 20 months. The FAA should order a grounding and emergency inspections to insure the flying public is safe. #Southwest1380
— Miles O’Brien (@milesobrien) April 18, 2018