NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/CBSNews/AP) — A Southwest Airlines jet blew an engine at 32,000 feet and was hit by shrapnel that smashed a window, setting off a desperate scramble by passengers to save a woman from getting sucked out. She later died, and seven others were injured.
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.
The pilot, identified as Tammie Jo Shults, took the twin-engine Boeing 737 bound from New York to Dallas with 149 people aboard into a rapid descent and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia as passengers using oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling said their prayers and braced for impact.
“I just remember holding my husband’s hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed,” said passenger 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.”
Passenger Marty Martinez joined CBSN on the phone from the plane, saying there was “blood everywhere.”
“I had WiFi, and I knew I couldn’t get any sort of text messages through, so I jumped on Facebook Live,” he said. “I thought I was cataloging the last moments of my existence the whole way … It was absolutely terrifying.”
Martinez said it was difficult to breathe as smoke poured into the plane.
“It was the most terrifying experience,” he said. “I mean, to think that as I’m going down and people are jumping in my live feed and I’m like ‘the plane’s going down’ and I’m just thinking that at any moment now my internet could cut out and that would be that’s it.”
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to Philadelphia. Pictures show investigators on scene examining damage to the engine. Shrapnel busted the fuselage and blew out a window.
One passenger, Jennifer Riordan from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was killed. She was married with two children and a longtime employee of Wells Fargo visiting New York City.
Passenger Kathy Farnan says she could hear the commotion going on behind her.
“She was way in back, cut in the face, flying glas from part of the engine hit glass and she got hit in the face and then I was told she was half out of the plane and people grabbed her back, ya know, from the pull,” she told CBS2’s Meg Baker.
Over air traffic control, the pilot asked for medical help to board the plane.
Riordan was the first passenger killed in an accident involving a U.S. airline since 2009. The seven other victims suffered minor injuries.
Shults is being hailed as a hero for landing safely. Passengers commended her for her cool-headed handling of the emergency. She walked through the aisle and talked with passengers to make sure they were OK after the plane touched down.
“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her,” said Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas. “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 (10 km) and traveling 500 mph (800 kph) when it abruptly turned toward Philadelphia.
Bourman said she was asleep near the back when she heard a loud noise and oxygen masks dropped.
“Everybody was crying and upset,” she said. “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!'”
In a recording of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic controllers, an unidentified crew member reported that there was a hole in the plane and “someone went out.”
Tumlinson said a man in a cowboy hat rushed forward a few rows “to grab that lady to pull her back in. 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.”
Another passenger, Eric Zilbert, an administrator with the California Education Department, said: “From her waist above, she was outside of the plane.”
Passengers struggled to somehow plug the hole while giving the badly injured woman CPR.
Passengers did “some pretty amazing things under some pretty difficult circumstances,” Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said.
As the plane came in for a landing, everyone started yelling to brace for impact, then clapped after the aircraft touched down safely, Bourman said.
“We were very lucky to have such a skilled pilot and crew to see us through it,” Zilbert said. “The plane was steady as a rock after it happened. I didn’t have any fearing that it was out of control.”
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 Continental Express plane crashed on a house near Buffalo, New York.
Southwest has about 700 planes, all of them 737s, including more than 500 737-700s like the one in Tuesday’s accident. It is the world’s largest operator of the 737. The 737 is the best-selling jetliner in the world and has a good safety record.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in Dallas that there were no problems with the plane or its engine when it was inspected Sunday.
The jet’s CFM56-7B engines were made by CFM International, jointly owned by General Electric and Safran Aircraft Engines of France. CFM said in a statement that the CFM56-7B has had “an outstanding safety and reliability record” since its debut in 1997, powering more than 6,700 aircraft worldwide.
Last year, the engine maker and the Federal Aviation Administration instructed airlines to make ultrasonic inspections of the fan blades of engines like those on the Southwest jet. The FAA said the move was prompted by a report of a fan blade failing and hurling debris. But it was unclear whether the particular engine that failed on Tuesday was covered by the directives.
“There’s a ring around the engine that’s meant to contain the engine pieces when this happens,” said John Goglia, a former NTSB member. “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?”
In 2016, a Southwest Boeing 737-700 blew an engine as it flew from New Orleans to Orlando, Florida, and shrapnel tore a 5-by-16-inch hole just above the wing. The plane landed safely. The NTSB said a fan blade had broken off, apparently because of metal fatigue. Investigators say they’ve also found evidence of metal fatigue on the plane where the engine malfunctioned on Tuesday.
Part of the engine from flight 1380 was found on the ground in Berks County, Pennsylvania — roughly 65 miles from the airport. Officials are helping passengers make connected flights so they can hopefully get back to their loved ones. Meanwhile, officials will be looking into when the plane and its engines were last inspected.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)