NTSB: Fan blade missing from engine of Southwest flight

April 18 (UPI) — The United States’ chief civil aviation investigative agency said the faulty engine on a Southwest Airlines flight that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia — and led to a woman’s death — was missing a fan blade.

The Dallas-bound Boeing 737 was forced to land in Philadelphia Tuesday when an engine exploded, with 143 passengers and five crew members aboard.

Jennifer Riordan was partly expelled from the fuselage through a broken window, due to the rapidly escaping air pressure. She died later at a Philadelphia hospital.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a press conference a fan blade was missing from the engine assembly, and there’s evidence of “metal fatigue” where it separated.

“There’s much more to be done on this,” Sumwalt said.

Metal fatigue typically begins with a small surface fracture or hole and slowly grows in size over time.

Riordan’s was the first death for Southwest Airlines.

“On behalf of the entire Southwest family, I’d like to extend my sincerest sympathies,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement. “I am immensely grateful there are no other reports of injuries.”

The 43-year-old mother of two served as the vice president of community relations at Wells Fargo Bank in Albuquerque, N.M. There, she’d managed the volunteer service of more than 1,000 employees since 2008.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said in a statement that Riordan was a “thoughtful leader” who had been “part of the fabric of our community.”

One of her past employers, the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, described Riordan as an “amazing community leader, team member, wife and mother.”

The pilot of the aircraft, Tammie Jo Shults, has received praise for her actions during the crisis. At 32,000 feet, she kept the plane steady as she planned the emergency descent — not long after the flight had departed New York City’s LaGuardia International Airport.

Passenger Diana McBride Self wrote on Facebook thanks to Shults for navigating the plane to safety.

“Her grace and knowledge under pressure were remarkable,” she wrote. “She came through the plane personally to check on us after she landed our crippled airplane. … We were truly all in amazing hands.”

Another passenger praised Shults for “nerves of steel.”

Shults was among the first female U.S. military fighter pilots, and the first woman to fly an F/A-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy.