Southwest Passenger Recalls 'Struggle' During Deadly Flight: 'It Was Just Madness'
"A passenger later told me he pulled the woman who had gone out the window in and the top part of her body was out of the window," a passenger aboard the flight tells PEOPLE
“Everyone on the plane heard what happened. Because I was in the aisle I could turn around,” a passenger from New Jersey who wishes to remain anonymous tells PEOPLE. “I heard a rattling noise, as if you put a utensil in a blender and that was instantly followed by a loud bang and a severe drop in altitude, the worst I have ever felt. The oxygen masks dropped right away.”
While many attempted to call or text loved ones in what could be their final moments, a group of passengers tended to a 43-year-old woman, who had been severely injured when one of the engines exploded.
It is understood that Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was critically injured as she was sucked out the window. While other passengers were able to pull her back into the aircraft, witnesses reported that she was in cardiac arrest as passengers attempted to revive her for about 20 minutes until the plane made an emergency landing. She was later pronounced dead.
“I saw some passengers unbuckling and everyone crowding over this one aisle and the flight attendants run over and we see people lunging over people — it was just madness,” the New Jersey passenger recalls. “A passenger later told me he pulled the woman who had gone out the window in and the top part of her body was out of the window.”
“They were fighting to get her back in. It was a struggle, it looked like it took a few people,” the passenger continues. ”There was quite a bit of blood. I saw a large group of people around her aisle and I saw all this foam and it looked like it was from a fire extinguisher, but it was fire suppression foam from the engine. I saw a passenger pumping on her chest performing CPR and someone ran up to the front of the plane where they got a defibrillator.”
After the engine blew out, 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 was trying to keep calm and focus on my breathing. It is terrifying, I can’t tell you what I was thinking, I was holding the passenger’s hand next to me,” the passenger tells PEOPLE. “The plane was falling, it’s tilting side to side. With one engine shaking like that it is terrifying. Every moment was like, ‘This is when we can fall out of the sky.’ You just don’t know.”
After the plane made a successful landing in Philadelphia, the passenger says emergency staff came aboard to access the situation.
“I overheard the passenger performing CPR say she didn’t have a pulse,” the passenger says. “First medics and firemen came on to treat that woman with defibrillators and then they checked on each passenger to see if they were okay.
“They took her by me and she was covered in blood. She was hit by debris.”
Pilot Tammie Jo Shults has been called a hero for staying calm throughout the horrifying ordeal and successfully landing the plane.
“The landing was spectacular, everyone was in the brace position, they told us head downs, when we landed it was like a euphoric release, everyone was cheering, everyone was applauding,” the passenger recalls. “I called my mom, that was the first thing I did.”
The passenger adds: “It’s a freak accident, it won’t stop me from flying. I am still trying to process it all.”
Riordan’s family released a statement provided to PEOPLE, writing, “Jennifer Riordan has passed away as a result of previously reported events on Southwest Airlines flight #1380.”
“Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured,” the statement continued. “But foremost, she is the bedrock of our family. She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children.”
In a video message, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly shared his condolences.
“On behalf of the Southwest family, I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family and the loved ones of our deceased customer,” Kelly said. “They are our immediate and primary concern and we will do all that we can to support them during this difficult time.”