At 32,500 feet up in the sky, the engine of a Southwest Airline aircraft failed.

In what must have been a shocking moment for passengers, Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 was heading from New York City to Dallas, Texas, when the engine exploded.

The cabin vigorously depressurised after engine debris punctured the fuselage. Oxygen masks dropped and the pilots rapidly descended to 10,000 feet where passengers could breathe. Around 22 minutes later, they conducted an emergency landing at Philadelphia.

The incident became a tragedy when the National Transportation Safety Bureau (NTSB) announced that one person died. It’s the first fatality on an American airline over U.S. soil since 2009, when an aircraft approaching Buffalo, NY crashed killing 50.

The fatality on Southwest was Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive from New Mexico. Shrapnel from the engine broke a window of the aircraft and struck her. She was hanging halfway out the window as passengers tried to save her from being completely sucked out.

Cause of the blown Southwest engine

The NTSB Chairman explained that a fan blade was separated and missing from the engine. There was evidence of metal fatigue, as the blade broke off from the point where it would come into the hubs. An investigation is likely to take between just over one year. There was reportedly meant to be a ring around the engine that is supposed to contain the engine pieces when this happened. Similar engines are to be inspected.

CFM International is the manufacturer of the jet’s engines – CFM56-7B engines. The company is owned by General Electric and the French-based Safran Aircraft Engines.

The pilot was praised for her efforts at saving the plane from further tragedy. Tammie Jo Shults, a pilot with decades of flight experience, safely landed the aircraft. At 56 years of age, she was one of the U.S. Navy’s first fighter pilots. She used to fly F-18 fighter jets at 150 miles per hour before working for Southwest.

The Southwest tragedy demonstrates how careful airlines and aircraft manufacturers need to be in their design and construction processes. Avlaw Aviation Consulting have experts in this field, and regularly conduct aircraft audits. We can help you ensure your aircraft is up to speed and is operationally safe so as to prevent disasters like this one.