Boeing said it is working on the design enhancements to fully address the safety recommendation from the NTSB. Credit: Philly Voice.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, bound for Dallas, Love Field, had left New York’s LaGuardia Airport at 10:27 am, on a beautiful April morning in 2018.

The Rev. Timothy Bourman, sitting with his wife near the back, had just finished a Sudoku puzzle when he heard a massive explosion and saw items flying out Jennifer Riordan’s window. The plane dropped and banked suddenly, spreading terror in the plane, as he gripped his wife’s hand.

“I just said, ‘Jesus … send your angels,’” he recalled.

Oxygen masks fell from the ceiling. In their panic, many passengers donned them incorrectly.

For the next 22 minutes, the 144 passengers and five crew members wondered if this was the end. Flight attendants, normally paragons of stability when a plane hits rocky air, broke down themselves, some of them sobbing.

Bourman also thought of his family, namely his three daughters. He wanted to send them a note “from the grave,” something to let them know their parents always loved them.
“Never lose your faith in God. Jesus loves you girls,” the message read.

Fan Blade No. 13:

Last week, the National Transportation Safety Board announcing the probable cause of the accident during a public board meeting.

A fractured fan blade from a CFM International CFM-56-7B engine, powering a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700, led to the engine inlet and fan cowl separating and subsequently damaging the fuselage, resulting in a rapid cabin depressurization, Flying Magazine reported.

As a result of the investigation, the NTSB issued seven new safety recommendations, with five issued to the Federal Aviation Administration, one to the European Aviation Safety Agency, and one to Southwest Airlines.

The NTSB determined that probable cause of the accident was a low-cycle fatigue crack in the dovetail of fan blade No. 13, which resulted in the fan blade separating in flight and impacting the engine fan case at a location that was critical to the structural integrity and performance of the fan cowl structure.

This impact led to the in-flight separation of fan cowl components, including the inboard fan cowl aft latch keeper, which struck the fuselage near a cabin window and caused the window to depart from the airplane, the cabin to rapidly depressurize, and the passenger to suffer fatal injuries.

The flight crew conducted an emergency descent and diverted to Philadelphia International Airport. There were 144 passengers and five crew members aboard. Along with the one passenger fatality, eight other passengers suffered minor injuries.

One of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults sounded unflappable as she told air traffic control to direct her to the nearest airport. Credit: Time Magazine.

“This accident demonstrates that a fan blade can fail and release differently than that observed during engine certification testing and accounted for in airframe structural analyses,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “It is important to go beyond routine examination of fan blades; the structural integrity of the engine nacelle components for various airframe and engine combinations needs to be ensured.”

The NTSB recommendations to the FAA included the requirement that Boeing determine the critical fan blade impact location(s) on the CFM56-7B engine fan case and redesign the fan cowl structure on all Boeing 737 next-generation-series airplanes to ensure the structural integrity of the fan cowl after a fan-blade-out event.

Once that action is completed, the NTSB’s findings require Boeing to “install the redesigned fan cowl structure on new-production 737 next-generation-series airplanes, and require operators of Boeing 737 next-generation-series airplanes to retrofit their airplanes with the redesigned fan cowl structure.”

A Texas firefighter to the rescue:

The titanium alloy blade careened through the turbine engine and protective cowling with devastating force.

Within seconds, a piece of the engine hurtled into a window in Row 14, where Riordan, a 43-year-old woman making her way home to Albuquerque, New Mexico, was sitting. The window popped out of the fuselage entirely, partially sucking Riordan into the turbulent, arctic air outside.

“Her arms and her body were sucked … in that direction, from my vantage point,” said passenger Marty Martinez, who was in Row 16. “So you see people, from the back of the seat, holding onto her, trying to keep her contained.”

Several rows in front of Rev. Bourman, Riordan’s fellow passengers struggled to pull her back from the hole in the fuselage.

Black cowboy hats are often worn by villains in old Westerns, but in this case a hero wore one. Tim McGinty, who works in farm and ranch real estate, rushed to Row 14.

“Somebody screamed, and we realized what had happened when the window went out and so I tried and tried and couldn’t — I just couldn’t — and then Andrew came over just trying to get her back in,” he said.

That was Andrew Needum, a Celina, Texas, firefighter who was flying with five family members when he heard a “loud pop.” After helping his wife, parents and children in Row 8 with their oxygen masks, he looked to his wife for permission to help the folks behind him. She silently granted it.

“God created a servant heart in me, and I felt a calling to get up and do something,” he would say days later.

McGinty and Needum got Riordan back into the plane, where Needum and another passenger, retired nurse Peggy Phillips, began performing CPR.

“We were still doing CPR when the plane landed,” the former nurse said. “We made every effort that we could possibly make to save this woman’s life.”

As passengers prayed and pondered their last words to loved ones, Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor had the unenviable duty of landing the big injured bird.

One of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots, Shults sounded unflappable as she told air traffic control to direct her to the nearest airport and requested a medical unit to meet the plane. A runway would be cleared in Philadelphia.

“Injured passengers, OK, and is your airplane physically on fire?” the air traffic controller asked.

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

The pilots brought it down at roughly 190 mph, a good deal faster than the typical 155 mph at which pilots usually land 737s.

Casting a pall over the celebrations was the woman in Row 14. Still bloody and unconscious, Riordan was rushed to an area hospital, where doctors declared her dead of blunt impact trauma to the head, neck and torso.

Her employer, Wells Fargo, where she had led the bank’s volunteer services since 2008, mourned the “well-known leader who was loved and respected.”

— With files from CNN

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