Inside Southwest Flight 1380, 20 Minutes of Chaos and Terror


April 18, 2018

April 18, 2018

Marty Martinez with other passengers aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 after an engine exploded and a gust of shrapnel blew out a window. – Marty Martinez, via AP

Tens of thousands of feet above the earth, the passengers clasped hands with strangers, prayed together and got ready to die.

Moments earlier on Tuesday morning, they had been playing Sudoku, catching up on their reading for church and curling up together to watch funny movies as their Southwest Airlines flight climbed above 30,000 feet on its way from New York to Dallas. It was around 11 a.m., 20 minutes into a four-hour flight, as they skimmed above the clouds and waited for flight attendants to hand out drinks.

Then, with a deafening roar, Flight 1380 became a midair scene of chaos and terror.

With no apparent warning, the plane’s left engine exploded and a gust of shrapnel blew out a window, partly sucking one passenger headfirst into the sky. Oxygen masks dropped down and the plane plunged thousands of feet in a minute.

Over the next 20 minutes, the depressurized cabin air swirled with insulation and debris, panic and prayers as the pilot stabilized the plane and rerouted it to Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

“I grabbed my wife’s hand and I started praying: ‘Dear Jesus, send some angels. Just save us from this,’” said Timothy C. Bourman, 36, a pastor from Woodside, N.Y., who was on his way to a church retreat in San Antonio. “I thought we were goners.”

In the cockpit, the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, a veteran Navy pilot, flew on with one engine and calmly radioed air traffic controllers in Philadelphia to discuss her approach. She told them the flight was carrying injured passengers and needed emergency medics on the ground.

“Is your airplane physically on fire?” an air traffic controller asked Ms. Shults, according to audio captured by LiveATC.

“No it’s not on fire, but part of it is missing,” she responded. “They said there’s a hole and someone went out.”

On Wednesday, Robert L. Sumwalt, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said there was evidence of metal fatigue on the left engine of the plane, a two-engine Boeing 737. Mr. Sumwalt also said that investigators had discovered that a fan blade was missing from the plane’s other engine.

Robert W. Mann, an airline analyst, said this kind of metal fatigue is virtually impossible to see until a failure has already occurred. It is always destructive when a blade comes loose, although it is unusual for uncontained engine failures to be deadly, he said.

On Tuesday morning, as the flight descended toward Philadelphia, some passengers scrambled to put on oxygen masks while others hurried to buy internet access so they could send a last message to their children and families. Marty Martinez, 29, of Dallas, held a yellow oxygen mask to his face as he live-streamed the descent on Facebook. “It appears we are going down!” he wrote.

Pastor Bourman said he could not figure out how to use his mask, and decided it would not save him if the plane crashed. Instead, he sat and prayed as his wife, Amanda, managed to connect her phone to the plane’s Wi-Fi. They began texting Pastor Bourman’s father to tell him what had happened and to convey a message to the couple’s three daughters, 6, 4 and 2 years old:


Plane blew an engine.

We are going to try to land.

Tell the girls we love them and that Jesus is with them always.

On the right side of the plane, just across from the blown-out window, Sheri Sears said her friend and travel companion, Tim McGinty, reassured his wife and Ms. Sears that they would be fine, and tightened their seatbelts. Then he sprang up to help drag the injured passenger, Jennifer Riordan, back into the plane.

Ms. Riordan was unconscious and bleeding as Mr. McGinty and another passenger, a firefighter from north of Dallas, laid her across a row of seats. A retired nurse rushed up and helped Mr. McGinty perform CPR all the way to Philadelphia, but it was no use. Ms. Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, was pronounced dead at a hospital.

As the passengers tried to save Ms. Riordan, Ms. Sears thought about her 11-year-old daughter, Tyley. Ms. Sears’s own father had died when she was 7, and she kept thinking to herself: I’m not going to be there for her.

She said she offered a thin prayer for mercy: “If this is your will, God, please let me go quickly. Don’t let me suffer.”

Courtesy/Source: NY Times