One passenger was killed and seven others were hurt Tuesday during a mid-air engine explosion on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas. Jennifer Riordan, a married mother of two, died after engine parts shattered one of the plane's windows. There were 149 people onboard. Passengers are calling pilot Tammie Jo Shults a hero for calmly guiding the plane to safety.
The National Transportation Safety Board said one of the engine's fan blades showed signs of metal fatigue and broke off, potentially causing the accident, reports CBS News' Kris Van Cleave. Southwest says the failed CFM 56 engine is about 20 years old but was serviced just three days ago.
Roughly 20 minutes after takeoff at about 32,000 feet, the plane's left engine exploded. The blast sent shrapnel tearing through one of the plane's windows causing the cabin to lose pressure. Terrified passengers like Marty Martinez reached for oxygen masks as the plane rapidly descended. Martinez said that there was Wi-Fi on the plane so he was able to stream a Facebook video as the plane descended into Philadelphia.
"I thought I was cataloging the last moments of my existence," Martinez told CBS News.
Riordan was killed after she was partially sucked out of the shattered window. Other passengers pulled her back and tried unsuccessfully to perform CPR.
"The fan section that we are talking about today is designed such that if a part does come off it would not be catastrophic for the airplane. Had this window not been punctured, today's event would just been another emergency landing," NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
Passengers applauded captain Tammie Jo Shults for landing the plane safely. According to friends at her alma mater, Shults was among the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy.
"She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. I want to send her a Christmas card," one passenger said.
Tuesday's engine failure isn't the first for Southwest linked to metal fatigue. In August 2016, a similar event occurred on a flight to Orlando. That 737 landed safely with no one hurt but metal from the engine sliced into the fuselage.
"We are very concerned about it. There needs to be proper inspection mechanisms in place to check for this before there's a catastrophic event," Sumwalt said.
After that 2016 failure, the FAA has been moving to require enhanced inspections of some models of this engine for metal fatigue.
Southwest says it will accelerate its existing inspection program. Riordan is the first person killed aboard a U.S. commercial airliner in nine years.