An associate professor for the University of Oklahoma aboard a Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines flight Tuesday struggled to pull a woman back into the plane after she was sucked into a hole left by a shattered window.
The victim, identified as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan, of New Mexico, died, officials said.
Riordan was sitting on the left side of the plane when something in the engine apparently broke and smacked into the window. She hung out the hole for many minutes, said Hollie Mackey, who sat next to the victim. Mackey is an associate professor for OU.
Mackey told KTVQ that she held onto Riordan and tried to keep her inside the plane.
“When I saw Jennifer…I had leaned over and grabbed on to her belt loops and her waist and wrapped my arm around her waist and tried to pull. And the little girl next to me also tried to pull with me, and we tried to pull her back in, and we couldn’t. We were not strong enough. All we could do was stay calm, because if we didn’t then there would be even more panic in the plane,” Mackey told KTVQ.
Many passengers kept trying to pull the woman back into the plane for a long time, until two men were able to get the woman back in her seat, they said.
A nurse answered a call for help and tried to do CPR.
Riordan died from blunt impact trauma of the head, neck and torso, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said.
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board got a preliminary look at the engine that failed.
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.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said the family of the victim was the airline’s primary concern.
“This is a sad day and our hearts go out to the family and the loved ones of the deceased customer,” he said. “We will do all that we can to support them during this very difficult time.”
Terror in the cabin
As the plane ascended past 32,000 feet about 20 minutes into the flight from New York to Dallas, the left engine failed and parts of it flew off, shattering the window in Row 14.
Mackey told KTVQ that’s when she heard a loud boom, followed by oxygen masks dropping from above their heads.
“So I had clicked my seat belt back on and I was going to get something out of my bag. And then there was a big boom, and we were all very confused for a second. Just at the same time, there was a boom and this cold air and this sucking sound. We were all just looking around. We didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
The injured woman’s arms and body were sucked toward the opening in the plane, witnesses said.
“In that moment, we really just made some pretty tough decisions. It was really excellent team work between all of them to try to get Jennifer back in safe and keep everybody else safe at the same time,” Mackey said.
Other passengers began trying to plug the hole with jackets and other objects but to no avail. Those items, too, were sucked out of the plane, witnesses 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.
Southwest said this is the first death from an in-flight incident in company history.