In an interview with ABC’s 20/20 news magazine, the crew of Southwest Flight 1380 said the aircraft rolled sharply left and vibrated violently “kind of all at once” after it suffered an uncontained fan failure on April 17 near Philadelphia. Although the flight landed safely, one passenger was killed when engine debris pierced a window and she was partially ejected from the depressurized cabin.
“It was very disorienting to have all these things happen at once. And I actually couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on,” First Officer Darren Ellisor told ABC in the interview that aired on Friday. “Your instincts kick in, you know, stuff that you’ve prepared for … ever since you started flying … and this training just takes over,” Ellisor added. Ellisor was the pilot flying but after the engine failure, Captain Tammie Jo Shults took over flying and radio work while Ellisor worked emergency procedures.
The cockpit was so noisy that Shults and Ellisor had to communicate with hand signals. “We had some switchology to do. Then it was really just back to flying. We had to use hand signals, a lot of nodding and pointing,” Shults said. When asked by a passenger later how the aircraft flew, Shults said “like a rock.” The 737 touched down in Philadelphia at about 162 knots, about 30 knots faster than normal.
Several passengers were interviewed for the report and said they remain traumatized. One, Hollie Mackey, was in the aisle seat in the same row as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan who died after her upper body was pulled out through a debris-pierced window. Mackey said she and another passenger were unable to pull Riordan back into the cabin until the pressure equalized and the aircraft reached a lower altitude. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful.
Shults told ABC that she traded the trip with her husband, who’s also a Southwest Captain, so she could coach their son at a track meet. Interestingly, she also said passengers occasionally refuse to fly when they realize a woman is in the cockpit. “Every once in a while, a passenger would look at me and see the stripes and say are you flying?,” she said. Shults was one of the pioneering women in military aviation and flew fighters in the Navy before leaving the service to join Southwest.
The NTSB continues to investigate the accident, which was Southwest’s first fatality. The airplane was en route from New York to Dallas when a blade in the left CFM56-7B engine fan departed, essentially destroying the fragment containment systems meant to prevent debris from damaging the aircraft structure.