One Passenger Dead After Southwest Engine Failure

Filed Under: Southwest

A Southwest 737-700 suffered an uncontained engine failure on Tuesday, requiring an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Flight 1380 was flying between New York and Dallas with 143 passengers and five crew members when the incident occurred.

While the plane landed safely, with most passengers unharmed, seven were treated for minor injuries, and the AP is reporting that one woman has perished, presumably the passenger sitting near the damaged window who was “partially pulled from the aircraft“.

Aviation accidents are fortunately uncommon (this is the first fatality onboard a US carrier since 2009), and both the 737 and these engines are incredibly reliable. Southwest had a previous incident with this configuration in 2016, and the pilot was able to land the plane safely with no significant injuries to passengers or crew.

The difference, in this situation, is that the shrapnel from the engine failure pierced a window of the aircraft, leading to cabin depressurization and the passenger injuries.

You can see the window that was broken in this image — it’s significantly aft of the engines, which is also unexpected. The design of the 737 allows for a missing window above the engine (by the front leg of the “h” in “Southwest”) as a protective measure should anything happen to the engine. (Edit: this is also the location of the HVAC ductwork, but I believe the placement choice of the latter is still informed by the desire to have improved structural integrity in this location).

While it’s too soon to speculate, a focus of the NTSB investigation will almost certainly involve why the debris scattered in such a way, along with the determining the cause of the engine failure itself.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has a statement here:

And you can find the initial National Transportation Safety Board briefing here:

LIVE: NTSB holds press conference on Southwest Airlines flight

This is a tragic accident, and I’m sure it was a terrifying experience for those onboard. It’s fortunate that the crew was able to react quickly, and that the plane was able to be landed quickly and safely. You can hear the audio of the very calm and collected pilot interacting with ATC here:

Similarly to when we see videos of passengers evacuating aircraft with their hand baggage in-tow, the images shared by some of the passengers serve as a reminder to always pay attention to the safety briefing, even if you’re a regular traveler. Seatbelts should always be worn when seated — the pilot may not have time to turn on the Fasten Seatbelt Sign in an emergency — and should oxygen be needed, the mask goes over your mouth and nose.

It can be difficult to remember all the procedures during an emergency, and quick execution is critical. Despite the incredibly safe nature of air travel, accidents can happen.

There will be more information in the coming days and months as the NTSB and other groups investigate the incident. In the meantime, our thoughts are with the passengers, crew members, and families involved.

(Featured image via David Maialetti /The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

  1. Might the speed of the plan plus the possible size of the debris be what caused the debris to hit so far back?

    Question: When you say “The design of the 737 allows for a missing window above the engine (by the front leg of the “h” in “Southwest”) as a protective measure should anything happen to the engine,” I’m not sure how a missing window is a protective measure. Could you please clarify what that means.

    Keep up the great work Tiffany!

  2. Actually, there’s a missing window due to the A/C ducting that runs through that space. The 737-100 and -200 didn’t have the same A/C system design, and thus didn’t have the missing window by the engine.

  3. @ TravelinWilly — The fuselage is made of aluminum, which is stronger and less likely to shatter than the window material in the event of an impact.

    Having windows in the fuselage is a compromise between passenger comfort and structural durability in general (and there are of course ancillary reasons for windows, like having visibility in case of a fire). But this is a point on the aircraft where having a contiguous band of aluminum provides maximum protection, in theory.

  4. Louis, yes the yellow cups fit over the mouth and nose. You can’t fix stupid. The crazy thing about the pictures is that more than a few do not have them correctly.

  5. @ Louis — Yes, but not over the chin which is what many of these people appear to be trying to do. Emergency situations are complicated though, hence why the repetition of the safety briefings can be so valuable.

  6. @ Matt — Interesting, thanks! Those series of aircraft had the engines placed a bit lower so that the wings provided protection, right?

    I would be curious to know if the choice of ductwork placement was informed by the desire to have contiguous aluminum in that location regardless. Any Boeing engineers reading?

  7. @Tiffany – Thanks for the clarification, that makes perfect sense from a structural integrity standpoint.

  8. The oxygen masks is to go over the mouth and nose of what I remember seeing the safely video and card. Yes I do pay attentions to the safely instructions. Yes, I understand its run of the mill stuff, but you should know the details because FA and Pilots might not have time to show you how. When I seat the exit row seat, I always go over the instructions so I know what to do. Every plane is different. The picture of people not having the mask on correctly is going to get the NTSB attention. They are going to wonder why it happens that way.

  9. @ Eric — I mean, not really. The odds of any kind of aviation incident are so minuscule that you’re splitting hairs if you try to determine the “safest” seat on the aircraft.

  10. @ Endre – All Southwest 737’s use the CFM-56 engine, which is made by CFM International ( a joint venture between GE Aviation, a division of General Electric of the United States and Safran Aircraft Engines, a division of Safran of France).

  11. It is also important to note that the supplemental oxygen supply only lasts about 10 minutes. It is only meant to provide oxygen until the plane can get back down below 10,000 feet.

  12. In fairness, the picture could have been taken closer to landing, when oxygen masks weren’t necessary at all… But yeah, better cover mouth and nose….

  13. And sigh to reports of people hysterically saying that the pilot lost control of the plane but was able to regain control… it was a controlled dive, dimwits. There was never loss of control.

  14. People may have been wearing the mask like that because they were no longer required (i.e. they were at a lower altitude). I’m sure if someone was having breathing issues they would not be putting it on their chin.

  15. @dk People obviously weren’t wearing the masks properly because they weren’t necessary.

    You call them stupid, maybe you should look at yourself…

  16. @ Rich @ Callum @ Ed — The images are stills from a Facebook Live one of the passengers started when the emergency started, which…I have a lot of questions.

  17. I hope there is no blame for SW here. Never really fly them, but they are a legit, well-funded operation (unlike Alegiant which 60 Minutes nailed) and seem to employ good people. Sh** happens – and hopefully this is not repeatable on 737 CFM engines. Interested to hear the full report.

  18. One in a billion, or 10 billion or whatever. So extremely rare but so sad. IIRC, these events are more likely at times of maximum thrust, so takeoff and climb out . There was a case in Singapore of uncontained engine failure during takeoff roll , part of the fan pierced the cabin and 1 passenger died.
    Qantas 380 had a major incident in which the failed engine damaged the one next to it, significant bits of the plane fell to earth prompting news agencies to announce ” Qantas crash in Singapore”; fortunately no one died. In that case it was an engine design problem.

  19. Very very sad and my thoughts are with the family of the victim.

    Whenever something happens (luckily next to never) with a WN aircraft I can’t help but wonder whether the significant number of short hops and tight turnarounds they fly in some way contributed to the incident (basically saying even with great maintenance they work those horses hard). I realize this could apply to many DL, AA and UA aircraft as well, but I suspect WN planes go through more takeoffs and landings than average.

    I couldn’t help but recall this scary incident from a few years back:

    Of note in that incident: “The depressurization was caused by the structural failure of a lap joint in the fuselage skin due to metal fatigue”.

  20. My gawd that pilot sounds amazingly calm and professional! She is definitely getting, and worthy of a lot of praise and positive publicity out of this!

  21. In awe of how calm and collected the pilot was, but can’t get that poor woman who went through the window out of my head. What a horrible thing to endure, and for her family as well.

  22. The plane was 18 years old. I’ll wait until we see the detailed report, but I hope this wasn’t due to negligence. An unfortunate accident all around.

  23. Reports are that the person who died, a VP at Wells Fargo (everyone’s a VP at most US banks so no idea how senior she was), was not due to being nearly extricated from the aircraft but rather and she died from a heart attack – likely due to the stress from the incident.

  24. you autism spectrum people backseat qb’ing this tragedy is sickening. goodbye to this site. i’m sure ben is more concerned with the lack of garlic bread somewhere.

  25. Catastrophic. Poor woman and her family.

    In regards as to whether it is safer to sit in front of the engine or behind historically passengers seated in the rear were more likely to survive a crash.

  26. She could have died from bleeding. One report was “there was blood everywhere”. Another report was that they did CPR in the plane for 20 minutes before landing and when then moved the woman, there was a pool of blood on the floor.

    I see in Wikipedia, there is a fight because there is mention of bleeding and some company folks don’t want it and are trying to remove it.

  27. @Tiffany – While I haven’t seen the Facebook live video, from the flimsy construction of those oxygen masks I cannot believe that a tight seal around your mouth and nose is crucial in pretty much any emergency bar smoke/chemicals filling the cabin – this included.

  28. AFAIK first Southwest “passenger” fatality. RIP to the passenger, and condolences to the passengers who had to go through it.
    Hope this is not systemical.

  29. @ callum — Because these masks increase oxygen saturation (but not flow), and don’t have a filter, the only real purpose they serve is to prevent hypoxia while the pilots get the plane to a lower altitude. They aren’t ever going to have an air-tight seal, and the instructions to “place over your mouth and nose and breathe normally” are that specific for a reason.

  30. @Tiffany – Which is exactly my point! They don’t have an air-tight seal and can’t filter the air – the people not wearing them over their noses therefore aren’t at any risk whatsoever.

  31. @ callum — Ah, I see what you’re saying. The risk isn’t about exposure to the aircraft air in this case though — it’s that if you aren’t wearing the mask over your nose, and aren’t cognizant of consistently/exclusively breathing through your mouth (say, if you’re talking to another passenger), you are more likely to not receive a high enough concentration of oxygen to sustain brain function. It takes fewer than 20 seconds without sufficient oxygen for your brain to stop functioning properly and hypoxia to begin, so there isn’t much margin for error.

  32. What I don’t understand is why don’t passenger airplanes come with parachutes? Wouldn’t it be nice if they just let everyone wear it and just let the plane haul open instantly and everyone would parachute to safety?

  33. @Tiffany – The body is pretty good at telling you when oxygen is running low, I’m sure you’ve felt it several times (if swimming under water, generally holding your breath/being out of breath or being in a confined space) – if the source for oxygen was already being supplied to your mouth and was only 1cm away from also being supplied to your nose, I can’t see how you’d be in any danger.

  34. Dreadful event but after listening to the audio I’m in awe of all the people involved in getting this plane down safely.

  35. I think everyone is forgetting a VERY similar incident with Southwest Airlines happened in August 2016. Just google it. Same engine type too. Fortunately there were no fatalities that time, but I’m surprised no one has brought that up.
    Anyways my wishes to the family of Jennifer Riordan. Such a shame.

  36. @callum Unfortunately the body has no mechanism to alert you to low oxygen, hence you quietly die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. CO bonds to your red blood cells instead of O2 and you are none the wiser until you loose consciousness.

    What your body IS good at is detecting higher levels of Carbon Dioxide. This is what makes your breathing speed up, and in a pool while holding your breath it makes you gasp for air.

    Some people do hypoxic swimming where you breath in and out quickly prior to a prolonged underwater swim. This gets the CO2 concentration lower in your lungs and gives you more time until your body is desperate for more air, based on CO2 mechanism. Tragically experienced swimmers die in swimming pools due to hypoxic swimming because they run out of oxygen.

  37. This tragedy brings up something I have been asking for years.. why do we need windows on the sides of planes in the first place? In addition the safety risk they pose they are terrible for fuel economy, increasing drag by up to 30%.
    No windows = safer and less expensive air travel

  38. Incredibly tragic.
    Condolences and thoughts to the woman, her family – especially her children – and all involved.
    The pilot and crew did a remarkable job.
    Tiffany, thank you for a clear report and your helpful comments.

  39. and Doug Stephan is on OMAAT!
    (I recognized the comment)
    I listen to the DJV experience every morning on the way to work — very enjoyable radio

  40. @ Jackie I assume using a parachute requires training Children infants elderly …

    For the record, I believe they operate upto 1.4 million flights a year

    Condolences to family of the passenger that passed away

  41. “My gawd that pilot sounds amazingly calm and professional! She is definitely getting, and worthy of a lot of praise and positive publicity out of this!”

    My exact impression, no surprise that Tiffany added she was a retired F-18 capt.

    Don’t know if there’s an exact saying in these lands for a sayin’ in my homecountry, but this lady has FOUR of them!

  42. That pilot deserves a medal. She’s as calm as if it was a regular landing when her engine’s on fire and part of her plane is literally missing. I am in awe.

  43. @BBK – I am convinced that comment came from Doug Stephan. It coincides with his commentary on the radio this morning, the DJV show (Doug, Jenn, and Victoria).
    They played the cockpit recordings and recanted experiences they had with flying.
    His radio program is a great relaxing way to start the day.
    Doug Stephan did his part in giving this Flight Captain praise and significant positive publicity!

  44. I always recommend pulling up when someone is worried about flying or wants to talk about which seat is the safest.

    You can say Southwest operates millions of flights but looking at the map at any point in any day starts to give an idea of how many planes take off and land with no problemo. It’s absolutely mind blowing every single time. Yet when one bad thing happens, it’s panic city.

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