New Father on Southwest Plane Describes Deadly Flight: 'I Thought I'd Never See My Son Again'
One person died and seven were injured on Tuesday when a Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines flight was forced to land in Philadelphia due to engine failure
Kristopher Johnson, of El Paso, Texas, initially thought a bird had hit the plane he was a passenger on during Tuesday’s Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines flight. But when he learned the “loud bang” was actually an exploding engine, his mind went to one place: His 13-month-old son, Jakob.
“I thought the second engine was gonna go out and we were gonna crash,” Johnson, 38, tells PEOPLE. “I thought it was the end of my life. I thought I’d never be able to see my son or my wife or my family again. That was the first thing that rushed through my head.”
Flight 1380 from New York City made an emergency landing in Philadelphia that morning after one of the engines exploded and sent a piece of shrapnel flying into the aircraft. The plane suddenly depressurized and descended from more than 30,000 feet to about 10,000 feet in about five minutes, CNN reports. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt told CNN that one of the plane’s 24 fan blades was missing.
“I’m a nervous flier. At the initial impact of the explosion, that’s definitely the first thing that crossed my mind: I wanted to see my son again,” Johnson tells PEOPLE. “I definitely want to see him grow up so I remained calm and I got my [oxygen] mask on and trusted God and trusted the pilots to do their job.”
Johnson says he and his colleagues, who were in New York for a conference, worked to help a woman who struggled to put on her own mask. Several rows away, Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two,was partially sucked through the window broken by shrapnel. Although other passengers were able to pull her back into the aircraft, witnesses reported that she went into cardiac arrest.
“She hit her head going out and with that sheer force, the prognosis wasn’t good,” Johnson tells PEOPLE of the woman.
Johnson praised the pilot and crew members for landing the plane safely. He says that when the aircraft had descended to 5,000 feet, he immediately called his wife Andrea and let her know he was safe.
Photos of the grounded plane showed the destroyed engine and the broken window. After the plane landed, Riordan was reportedly taken to the hospital in critical condition and later died. The other 148 passengers and crew members were grateful to be alive.
“Everyone was on the phone,” another passenger, Marty Martinez, told Dallas News of those on the plane. “There wasn’t a soul who wasn’t communicating with some loved one, one way or another.”
Seven passengers were treated for minor injuries after the incident, according to CNN.