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“It is with great sadness that I confirm there was a passenger fatality on Flight 1380,” said Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly. “This is a sad day, and on behalf of the entire Southwest family, I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family, and the loved ones of our deceased customer. They are our immediate and primary concern, and we will do all that we can to support them during this difficult time and the difficult days ahead.”
The left side engine of the Boeing 737-700 suddenly blew out just a few minutes after taking off from LaGuardia (LGA) at 10:43am ET for Dallas Love-Field (DAL). Shrapnel from the shredded engine hit one of the passenger windows, shattering the window and instantly depressurizing the cabin, causing oxygen masks to deploy. Riordan, who was seated by the window, was “partially sucked out of the plane” from the imbalance of pressure, according to passenger reports.
Riordan “hung out the window for many minutes” while passengers tried to pull her back into the plane amidst unstable cabin conditions, until two men were able to get her back in her seat, according to two passengers seated behind Riordan. A nurse answered a call for help, performing CPR to stabilize Riordan. Other passengers attempted to cover the window as the pilot rapidly descended from above 35,000 feet.
During the 15 minutes following the engine failure, Southwest flight captain Tammy Jo Schults piloted the aircraft to a safe landing at Philadelphia (PHL) at 11:23am ET, just 56 minutes after departure. Schults, who has been with Southwest since 1994, was one of the first female fighter pilots in US naval history. Once the aircraft landed, Schults personally addressed each passenger as they deplaned.
Immediately upon landing, Riordan was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition, while seven other passengers were treated on the scene for minor injuries.
Todd Baur, relaying information from his daughter-in-law, who was a passenger on the flight, told CNN that the cabin was “completely depressurized, oxygen masks were deployed.” A “big noise was the first sign that something was wrong,” he said. “A window blew out near the engine, the woman was almost taken out, was pulled back in.” Baur said there was a nurse and EMTs on board the aircraft, who helped administer CPR immediately. “Just true heroes. The pilot just managed the plane perfectly to get it down, flight attendants were amazing and kept everyone calm.”
Although some passengers described the plane as being in “free fall” on social media, flight data shows that the aircraft descended from over 30,000 feet to 13,000 feet in five minutes. The Fire Commissioner of Philadelphia stated that, during an emergency landing, descent “happens in a fairly rapid manner.”
The last fatality involving a commercial US airline took place in 2009, when Continental Airlines Flight 3407 crashed into a house in Buffalo, NY, due to icy weather-related conditions. All 49 people on board, as well as one person on the ground, died in the crash.
Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), gave a brief report on the incident on Tuesday afternoon, confirming the fatality and stating that the NTSB would conduct a thorough investigation into what occurred.
Soon after the NTSB report, Southwest released a follow-up statement:
“Southwest Airlines confirms an accident involving Southwest Airlines Flight 1380. The flight made an emergency diversion to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) earlier today after the Crew reported issues with the number one engine which resulted in damage to the fuselage.
We are deeply saddened to confirm that there is one fatality resulting from this accident. The entire Southwest Airlines Family is devastated and extends its deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the Customers, employees, family members and loved ones affected by this tragic event. We have activated our emergency response team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy. For a message from Gary Kelly, Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, please click here.
The aircraft involved today was a Boeing 737-700 (N772SW) and was en-route from New York LaGuardia (LGA) to Dallas Love Field (DAL). In total, the flight had 144 Customers and five Southwest Crewmembers onboard. We extend our heartfelt appreciation to the Southwest Pilots and Flight Attendants who acted professionally and swiftly to take care of our Customers during the emergency diversion and landing.
Finally, Southwest Airlines officials are in direct contact with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to support an immediate, coordinated response to this accident. Southwest is in the process of gathering additional information regarding flight 1380 and will fully cooperate in an investigative process.
Please join the Southwest Family in keeping all of those affected by today’s tragedy in your thoughts.”
The airline has changed its website banner and Twitter profile image from its signature red, yellow and blue heart symbol to one of a gray, broken heart.
Riordan was the vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was returning from a business trip in New York, according to her last Tweet:
Riordan described herself on Twitter as a “proud Team Member. Wife, mom of two, baseball fan, wine and coffee lover, passionate about my community.” She was an active volunteer well known for giving back to her community, and had been appointed Commissioner of Volunteer Engagement by the State of New Mexico. Her husband, Michael Riordan, is the former Chief Operations Officer for the City of Albuquerque. The Riordans have two young children.
Updated at 9:50pm: The family released a statement Tuesday evening, saying:
“Jennifer Riordan has passed away as a result of previously reported events on Southwest Airlines flight #1380. 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. We are so appreciative of the outpouring of support from family, friends and our community. We do ask that those who seek to express their condolences and prayers as well as media outlets respect our privacy at this time. Our family and friends need this time to both grieve and celebrate Jennifer’s impact on us all. In her memory, please remember to always be kind, loving, caring, and sharing.”
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