Philadelphia (AFP) – A catastrophic engine failure on a Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas killed one person and forced an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday in a terrifying ordeal for passengers.
Southwest flight 1380, a Boeing 737, encountered a problem with an engine after take-off from New York’s LaGuardia airport, Robert Sumwalt, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, told a news conference.
“We believe there were parts coming out of this engine,” he said. “There is one fatality,” Sumwalt confirmed.
Flight 1380 landed at Philadelphia International Airport at 11:20 am (1520 GMT) after the crew reported damage to one of the engines, the fuselage and at least one window, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Southwest Airlines said the Boeing 737-700 had been en route from New York to Dallas Love Field airport with 144 passengers and five crew members onboard.
“The entire Southwest Airlines family is devastated and extends its deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the customers, employees, family members, and loved ones affected by this tragic event,” the company said in a statement.
“We have activated our emergency response team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy.”
Passenger Marty Martinez said the engine exploded, blowing out a window in row 17, which critically injured a woman and led to the immediate deployment of the oxygen masks. The woman was later stretchered off the plane, he said.
“Something is wrong with our plane! It appears we are going down!” he wrote in the caption to a Facebook live-stream video that showed him looking panicked and breathing through oxygen mask.
– ‘Absolutely terrifying’ –
“Engine exploded in the air and blew open window 3 seats away from me. Explosion critically injured woman sitting in the seat next to the window,” he added.
“We are saying this is an engine failure,” Sumwalt said, confirming that parts flew out of the engine. He did not immediately disclose the identity of the dead person.
US television footage showed the jet on the tarmac at Philadelphia surrounded by officials examining the stricken left engine, manufactured by CFM, a joint venture between French company Safran and America’s General Electric.
“There’s blood everywhere,” Martinez told CBS News, recounting his terrifying experience. There had been no hint of any trouble, and the plane activated its passenger wifi about 30 minutes into the flight, he said.
“Then all of a sudden we heard an explosion,” he told CBS News. “There was a boom and within five seconds the oxygen masks dropped.”
“I thought I was cataloging the last moments of my existence,” he said of his Facebook live. “It was absolutely terrifying.”
Passengers tried in vain to plug the hole in the window as the plane started to plummet and tilt in turbulence with flight attendants crying and passengers instructed to brace for landing, Martinez said.
“It just felt like a free fall,” he said. “It was the scariest experience.” The woman was hit by flying shrapnel, causing her to pass out and bleed, Martinez told CBS.
Aviation experts drew comparisons on US television to another engine failure on a Southwest Airlines 737 flight from New Orleans to Orlando in 2016, which precipitated an emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida.
“We want to look at this particular event and see what the factors are related to this. Maybe they’re related to the previous event or maybe not. But we need to understand what’s going on here,” said the NTSB chairman.