Tuesday 21 August 2018

Woman partly sucked out of plane had seat belt on but died from traumatic injuries

Jennifer Riordan died on plane. Photo: AP
Jennifer Riordan died on plane. Photo: AP

Dean Gray

The woman killed when she was partially blown out of a Southwest Airlines plane was wearing a seatbelt at the time, but died from blunt impact trauma, according to authorities.

Spokesman James Garrow of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health said that banking executive Jennifer Riordan's death was ruled accidental.

Riordan was killed and seven others injured after the twin-engine 737 blew an engine at 30,000 feet on Tuesday, throwing shrapnel into a window of the plane.

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said Ms Riordan, who was sitting next to a window, was wearing a seatbelt before she was partially sucked out of the plane.

The Federal Aviation Administration plans to order inspections on engine fan blades like the one that snapped off and triggered the accident. Federal investigators are still trying to figure out how the window came out of the plane.

The two pilots who made the emergency landing in Philadelphia after the engine blew apart said that their "hearts are heavy".

Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor issued a statement through the airline. They said they appreciate the outpouring of support they've received from the public and their co-workers as they "reflect on one family's profound loss."

Ms Shults and Mr Ellisor said they were focused on working with investigators and would not be speaking to the media.

Earlier, Mr Sumwalt told a news conference that the incident began when one of the engine's 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub.

He said investigators found that the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.

Mr Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide issue in the Boeing 737-700.

"We want to very carefully understand what was the result of this problem. I'm very concerned about this particular event," Mr Sumwalt said at the news conference at the Philadelphia airport.

"To extrapolate that to the entire fleet, I'm not willing to do that right now."

Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest of the CFM56 engines, made by a partnership of France's Safran and General Electric, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time that type of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in the past two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.

A National Transportation Safety Board inspection crew was also combing the Boeing 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.

Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, suffered a second fracture about halfway along its length.

Pieces of the plane were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Mr Sumwalt said. The jet was traveling at 300kmh when it made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, according to Mr Sumwalt, much faster than the typical 255kmh touchdown.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a window, almost sucking Ms Riordan out.

"The window had broken and the negative pressure had pulled her outside the plane partially," Peggy Phillips, a registered nurse who was on the plane, told WFAA-TV in Dallas.

"Two men got her back inside, and we laid her down and we started CPR."

Ms Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the plane, piloted by Ms Shults, a former US Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.

"All I could think of in that moment was, I need to communicate with my loved ones," passenger Marty Martinez told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday. During the incident, he logged on to the in-flight wi-fi to send messages to his family.

"I thought, these are my last few moments on Earth and I want people to know what happened," said Mr Martinez, who live-streamed on Facebook images of passengers in oxygen masks as the plane made a bumpy descent into Philadelphia.

However, Mr Martinez was attacked by some social media users for his decision to livestream the incident, which they saw as violating the privacy of other passengers on the flight.

"You represent the worst of social media," said Tom Burke on Facebook.

The event illustrates the thorny issues facing platforms such as Google's YouTube, Twitter's Periscope and Facebook, already under pressure over privacy and news curating, over hosting live-streaming material.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on Mr Martinez's posts.

Irish Independent

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