Southwest plane suffers in-flight engine failure, 1 fatality confirmed

Early engine exam finds signs of metal fatigue on fatal Southwest flight

southwest airlines engine failure one fatality april 17 2018 boeing 737 700 shark week
A Southwest Boeing 737-700 in a Shark Week livery. A similar aircraft experienced an unconfined engine failure on April 17, 2018, while en-route from New York to Dallas. The plane made a safe emergency landing in Philadelphia. Officials reported one person died in the incident. Stephen Miller/Southwest Airlines

A Southwest Airlines flight en-route from New York City to Dallas experienced an unconfined engine failure, forcing the crew to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Officials confirmed that there was one fatality as a result, and several others injured. The plane, however, landed safely.

Southwest flight 1380, a Boeing 737-700, was flying from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Dallas Love Field when the incident occurred at approximately 11:15 a.m. ET. According to the airline, the plane was carrying 143 passengers and five crew members. Although an investigation is underway, passengers reported an explosion of the left (number one) engine, shattering glass and almost sucking a passenger through a broken window.

Witnesses also reported that passengers and crew managed to pull the woman back into the plane, but she later died. While the airline has yet to officially name her, multiple outlets, including the New York Times, have reported the victim as Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old Wells Fargo bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Describing the incident, passenger Marty Martinez told CNN there was “chaos all around.”

“We could feel the air from the outside coming in, and then we had smoke kind of coming in the window. Meanwhile, you have passengers that were in that aisle, trying to attend to the woman who was bleeding from the window explosion,” Martinez said. 

Although both the National Transportation Safety Board and Southwest confirmed that one person died in the incident, no further details about the victim and the cause of death have been released.

“We are in the process of gathering more information … We will share updates to the flight as they are confirmed,” Southwest said in a tweet. The airline has released an official statement on the incident.

Southwest’s CEO, Gary Kelly, said in a video statement that the victim, the victim’s family, and those involved in the incident are the airline’s main concern.

The aircraft landed safely at Philadelphia International Airport, at 11:23 a.m. ET, according to data from Flightaware; passengers were able to deplane using steps, and seven were treated onsite. Damage is significant: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the main body, engine, and window suffered damage. A photo of passengers wearing oxygen masks could be seen on social media, as well as photos of the damaged plane.

One passenger, Kristopher Johnson, told CNN the pilots were able to regain control of the plane, before landing in Philadelphia. According to FlightRadar 24, a website that tracks flights, the plane dropped from nearly 32,000 feet to 10,000 feet, in roughly five minutes. The website also said the plane was delivered to Southwest in 2000.

While flying remains one of the safest modes of transportation and such engine-related incidents are rare, they do happen. In fact, a Southwest 737 flying from New Orleans to Orlando made an emergency landing due to a similar engine failure back in 2016. Earlier this year, in February, a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Honolulu lost a part of an engine cover, an hour before landing. In both incidents, however, the flights landed safely and no passengers were injured.

No official statements or reports are yet available from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). At a press conference Tuesday evening, April 16, NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said a preliminary examination of the fan blade failure showed evidence of metal fatigue, according to Business Insider. Sumwalt also stated that the 13th of the turbofan engine’s 24 fans “had snapped off near the central hub.”

Southwest is the largest operator of an all-Boeing fleet, the company said on its website, and is one of the largest operators of the Boeing 737.

Updated on April 18: Added information from NTSB based on preliminary examination of the engine.

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