*This may sound like an old episode of The Twilight Zone, but I can guarantee you it is not. It really happened. An engine exploded mid-air on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, and a female passenger was sucked partially out of the plane’s window.
Now audio has emerged of the conversation between the plane’s pilot and air traffic control; and the composure of the pilot during what had to be one of the most frightening things a person has ever had to endure is nothing short of astounding.
Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot flying SW Airlines flight 1380, was able to bring the plane to a successful emergency landing as she explains to air traffic control what has happened.
An explosion from the engine sent shrapnel smashing into the Boeing 737-700, shattered a window and pulled passenger Jennifer Riordan a 43-year-old mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico, halfway out of the plane.
Riordan was pulled back in by passengers, but later died from her injuries.
She is said to be the first person to die in an accident involving a US airline in nine years.
Shults, a former Navy fighter pilot, one of the first females in the position, is being hailed a hero, All through this harrowing experience in the air, you can hear her maintaining professional composure, strength and courage as she speaks to air traffic control.
She tells traffic control, “Yeah, we have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.”
They respond, “Southwest 1380, speed is your discretion. Maintain any altitude above 3,000 feet.”
Shults: “OK. Could you have medical meet us there on the runway as well, we’ve got, um, injured passengers.”
He repeats, “Injured passengers. OK, and is your plane physically on fire?”
“No its not on fire but part of it’s missing,” Shults responds. “They said there’s a hole and, um, someone went out,” she adds.
I’m sorry. You said there was a hole and somebody went out?
Granted. These people are professionals, but they’re also human; and you can hear the undertones of shock in the controller’s voice as he, too, works to remain calm on the other end. He repeats the pilots’ comment and then, collecting himself quickly, says, “Southwest 1380 it doesn’t matter, we’ll work it out there.”
He then directs her to the airport “on the right.”
Now for the elephant in the room. The poor passenger who lost her life.
As reported in The Independent, Riordan, a vice-president of community relations at Wells Fargo bank, was dragged head first through a window which had been smashed by engine fragments, causing sudden decompression of the cabin.
Fellow passengers worked feverishly to help pull her back inside.
One passenger named Eric Zilbert said, “From her waist above, she was outside of the plane.”
Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, said a man in a cowboy hat rushed forward a few rows “to grab that lady to pull her back in”.
He added: “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, and they got her.”
Mrs. Riordan was given CPR by the passengers, while others attempted to plug in the window; as the pilots worked to make the emergency landing.
Mrs. Riordan’s family issued issued a statement to Texas TV news station WFAA.
“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.”
Before she set off, she sent a tweet showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan, captioning the photo: “Great business stay.”
Our deepest condolences to the Riordan family for the loss of their beloved Jennifer. May she rest in peace.