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Associate professor at OU plays role in flight tragedy

NORMAN, Okla. - An associate professor at the University of Oklahoma played a big role in the Southwest Airlines tragedy.

Hollie Mackey says she had premonition as her flight from New York to Dallas reached cruising altitude.

"It didn't feel right," she said.

Mackey was seated in the aisle seat on Row 14 when the engine under the wing next to her partially exploded, sending shrapnel into the window on her row.

"That sound, some people have said it was a pop. Where I was, it was a very loud boom because it was right there at my window," said Mackey.

Even with her seat belt on, the vacuum created by the broken window immediately sucked 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan's head and shoulders out of the plane.

"I saw that Jennifer was in a significant amount of distress, obviously. So, I grabbed on to her belt area and around her waist and tried to pull," Mackey told News 4.

Mackey and a 13-year-old girl, who was in the middle seat, continued to pull, but soon realized they would not have the strength to get Riordan back in the plane.

"We were feeling that we were being pulled and the wind was very cold," said Mackey. "So, I wrapped my arm around the girl and I pulled her to me, and I just kept my hand on Jennifer, so at least I thought someone is with her."

That’s when two men and a woman came over to pull Riordan out and performed CPR.

"I’ve never seen two people give everything they had, the way those two men did, to make sure she came in and was safely with us," said Mackey.

Despite other national media reports, Mackey says it was not a horrifically, bloody chaotic scene in the cabin.

"Right when the plane dropped and started to roll, there was initial scream when everything came down because, of course, that's terrifying," Mackey said. "But for the most part, it was actually quite calm. Everyone on that plane really stepped up when it was most important and I think we all dug deep and found something that, perhaps, we didn’t even know was in it."

Mackey says the actions of the captain and crew getting the plane to the ground safely in Philadelphia, and the way they embraced the passengers upon landing, was extraordinary.

"Hugging passengers, hugging me, telling us we did a good job, thanking us for being calm. It wasn’t until people were safely on the ground that people started to cry. I just think the way that she handled it was really remarkable," she said.

Sadly, Riordan died at a Philadelphia hospital after the plane made an emergency landing.

A spokesman for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health says she died from blunt impact trauma of the head, neck and torso.

Mackey says fear came once again when she got back on a plane in Philadelphia to Dallas.

"I was terrified, really, but I knew I had to. There was a woman that I was with who was very, very scared, and started crying and almost couldn’t step over the threshold, so there was never a time for me to be scared," Mackey told News 4. "There was always a time when someone needed somebody strong. That's just how I was raised."

Mackey is originally from Montana, but has been a professor of Women's Studies at OU the last 8 years. She says the experience has been life-changing.

"You have one chance at life and then you don’t, so what you choose to do with it - You don’t have to have this happen to you to make corrections."