By Bill Parry
A Southwest Airlines flight from LaGuardia Airport to Dallas turned deadly Tuesday when a blown jet engine shattered a window that left a woman hanging halfway outside a twin-engine Boeing 737.
Jennifer Riordan, 43, a mother of two from Albuquerque, N.M., was pulled back into the aircraft by fellow passengers but she succumbed to her injuries as Southwest Flight 1380 was forced to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport. Seven of the flight’s 149 passengers were injured during the chain of events that was set off by “metal fatigue” in the jet’s engine, according to federal investigators.
“It’s very unusual and so we’re taking this event extremely seriously,” National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said. “This should not happen, and we want to find out why it happened.”
A preliminary investigation showed a fan blade broke off and a ring designed to keep it inside the engine failed. The investigation was expected to take 12 to 15 months. Riordan, a bank executive with Wells Fargo, became the first person to die from an in-flight accident on a U.S. airliner since 2009, when 49 people on board and a person on the ground were killed when a Continental Express plane crashed outside of Buffalo, N.Y.
The pilot of the Southwest plane, Tammie Jo Shults, 56, is being hailed as a hero for safely landing the stricken jet. In addition to being one of the first female fighter jet pilots in the U.S. military, Shults was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 Hornet for the Navy.
Meanwhile, the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced Wednesday that it is banning doors-off tourism helicopter flights from operating out of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport after five passenger died aboard a chopper that crashed into the East River near Astoria in March.
The passengers were trapped inside the submerged helicopter because of the heavy duty harnesses they were wearing for safety as they took photos. Only the pilot, who was not wearing a harness, escaped with minor injuries.
“It is our hope that by officially banning doors-off helicopter flights out of New York City, we will help improve air safety within the five boroughs,” NYCEDC President James Patchett said. “We are thankful for the leadership and advocacy of the City Council on this important issue.”
The ban came ahead of a City Council hearing on a bill that would require the NYCEDC to regulate helicopter flights to reduce noise, improve air quality and ensure public safety.
“By calling for today’s hearing of the Committee on Economic Development, we were hopeful that immediate positive safety changes would occur for helicopter aviation in the city,” City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), the chairman of the NYC Economic Development Committee, said. “This agreement is very welcomed news and takes a huge step in the right direction.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr