Thursday 17 January 2019

Pilot: 'They said there's a hole in the plane and someone went out'

Dramatic accounts as woman dies after being sucked out of jet at 32,000ft

National Transportation Safety Board investigators examine damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane. Photo: AP
National Transportation Safety Board investigators examine damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane. Photo: AP

Rozina Sabur and David Millward

US Airlines are inspecting Boeing 737 planes after an engine on a passenger flight ripped apart mid-air and killed a woman who came close to being sucked through a broken window.

Jennifer Riordan (43) was on a Southwest Airline flight from New York to Dallas when a part of the engine shattered into the window and nearly pulled her out.

Ms Riordan, a banking executive, was hauled back by other passengers, who attempted to resuscitate her but she later died of her injuries.

Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), said an initial inspection of the failed engine found evidence of metal fatigue where a fan blade had broken off. Mr Sumwalt said investigators were "very concerned" about the issue of detecting slow-developing metal fatigue. "There needs to be proper inspection mechanisms in place to check for this."

All recent Boeing 737s are powered by engines from CFM, one of the world's largest engine suppliers.

In 2016, another Southwest flight was forced to make an emergency landing after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine, and debris ripped a foot-long hole above the left wing. Metal fatigue was cited in that incident too. CFM said yesterday that there are more than 8,000 of its CFM56-7B engines - the model involved in Tuesday's incident - in operation on Boeing 737 passenger jets.

Jennifer Riordan, who died following the accident. Photo: AP
Jennifer Riordan, who died following the accident. Photo: AP

Southwest, which operates one of the largest 737 fleets and has a strong safety record, said it was speeding up inspections of all related engines, which it expected to complete within 30 days.

This month European regulators ordered engine checks following a lengthy analysis of the 2016 Southwest incident, but investigators said it is too early to say whether the two problems are linked. The incident on Tuesday, the first fatal US airline accident in almost a decade, left seven others injured on the 144-passenger plane.

James Healy-Pratt, a pilot and aviation lawyer, said: "Uncontained engine failures are rare but can be devastating. It is where a turbine blade breaks off at high speed within the engine and projects shrapnel through the protective Kevlar engine cowling, designed to stop that."

Meanwhile the "hero" pilot of the Southwest plane has been praised for her "nerves of steel" in carrying out an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Tammie Jo Shults, a former fighter pilot with the US Navy, told emergency services: "We have part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit. We've got injured passengers," Ms Shults added, pausing for a moment, "they said there's a hole, and uh, someone went out."

After touching down, the pilot walked through the aisle to meet her passengers. "She has nerves of steel that lady, I applaud her," said one of them, Alfred Tumlinson.

Retired registered nurse Peggy Phillips told WFAA-TV that she performed CPR on Ms Riordan for about 20 minutes, until the plane landed.

She said that shortly after takeoff "we heard a loud noise and the plane started shaking like nothing I've ever experienced before. It sounded like the plane was coming apart, and I think we pretty quickly figured out that something happened with the engine."

She said they started losing altitude and the masks came down and "basically I think all of us thought this might be it."

She then heard a lot of commotion a few rows behind her.

"It was a lot of chaos back there - a lot of really upset people and a lot of noise, and a big rush of air, a big whoosh of air," Phillips said.

After a flight attendant asked if anyone knew CPR, Phillips and an medical emergency worker lay the woman down and performed CPR.

"If you can possibly imagine going through the window of an airplane at about 600 mph and hitting either the fuselage or the wing with your body, with your face, then I think I can probably tell you there was significant trauma," Phillips said.

Mr Tumlinson said a man in a cowboy hat rushed forward a few rows to grab the woman and 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," he said.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said there were no problems with the plane or its engine when it was inspected on Sunday. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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