An engine on a US passenger jet with 149 people aboard exploded and broke apart in mid-air, killing one passenger and nearly sucking another out of a shattered window, according to airline and federal authorities and witness and media accounts.
The Southwest Airlines flight, a Boeing 737-700 which was bound to Dallas from New York, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday(local time), reports Reuters
The death of 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan on Flight 1380 was the first in a US commercial aviation accident since 2009, according to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statistics.
A BBC report says that at least seven other passengers needed medical treatment following the incident.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told an evening news conference at the Philadelphia airport that a preliminary investigation found an engine fan blade missing, having apparently broken off, and that there was metal fatigue at the point where it normally attached.
Sumwalt said part of the engine’s covering, called a cowlling, was found in Bernville, Pennsylvania, about 70 miles from the Philadelphia airport.
“It is very unusual so we are taking this event extremely seriously,” Sumwalt said. “This should not happen and we want to find out why it happened so that preventative measures can be put in place.” He said the investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.
Flight 1380 took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport at around 10:27am and was diverted to Philadelphia just under an hour later, according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com.
Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said the flight landed at Philadelphia International at around 11:20am.
The engine on the plane’s left side threw off shrapnel when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurisation that nearly pulled a female passenger through the hole, according to witness accounts and local news media reports.
“We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” the plane’s captain, Tammy Jo Shults, told air traffic controllers in audio from the cockpit released on NBC News.
Asked by a controller if the jet was on fire, Shults said it was not, but added, “They said there is a hole and someone went out.”
“A woman was partially, was drawn out of the plane and pulled back in by other passengers,” Todd Bauer, whose daughter was on the flight, told the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia.
Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a Wells Fargo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as she was unsure whether all of Riordan’s family had been notified of her death.
Riordan was on the way back from a New York business trip, where she had sent a tweet on Monday showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan with the caption: “Great business stay.” Her Facebook page shows she was married with two children.
The plane, which was bound for Dallas Love Field, had been inspected as recently as Sunday, according to Southwest’s Kelly, who confirmed that Tuesday’s fatality was the first of its kind in the carrier’s 51-year history.
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