A passenger died Tuesday during the terrifying emergency landing of a Southwest Airlines flight in Philadelphia — the first fatal U.S. airline accident since a 2009 crash that sparked years of activism for aviation safety reforms.
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt confirmed the death, which occurred after an engine failure on the Boeing 737 and passengers’ reports of an explosion that left a window shattered. He offered no details about who the deceased passenger was or how he or she died.
One passenger, Marty Martinez, told news organizations that one woman’s “arms and body were sucked toward the opening in the plane” after the window smashed, while “passengers right next to her were holding onto her.”
Martinez posted frantic videos on Facebook as the plane came in for a landing with oxygen masks dangling. “I literally bought WiFi as the plane was going down because I wanted to be able to reach the people I loved…thinking these were my final moments,” he posted on Twitter.
Passenger Matt Tranchin told reporters that he spent 15 to 20 minutes “texting my wife, my family that I love them, saying goodbye … trying to articulate what my final words would be,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Flight 1380 had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York when the Boeing 737-700 experienced an apparent “in-flight engine failure of the left engine” on its way to Dallas’ Love Field, Sumwalt said.
Sumwalt stopped short of describing that failure as “uncontained,” saying investigators need to examine what’s left of the engine when they get to Philadelphia. Uncontained engine failure, in which pieces exit an engine, is more serious than “contained” failure, when a component separates but remains inside the engine or exits via the tail pipe.
The board sees “about three or four [uncontained failures] a year,” not all of which involve U.S. airlines, he said.
The death marks the first fatality on a U.S. commercial airliner since a February 2009 crash in which a turboprop plane operated by regional carrier Colgan Air struck a house near Buffalo, killing 50 people. The last fatal U.S. accident involving a foreign carrier was a July 2013 crash in San Francisco, which killed three people after a Boeing 777 operated by South Korea’s Asiana Airlines struck a wall while landing and pinwheeled on the runway.
Both the airline industry and President Donald Trump have touted the remarkable airline safety of recent years, including 2017’s record of having no commercial passenger jet fatalities worldwide.