Investigators say a preliminary examination of the blown jet engine of the Southwest Airlines plane that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia showed evidence of metal fatigue. Passengers describe a terrifying experience. One woman died.
A female passenger died after a jet engine explosion during Southwest Airlines Flight 1380’s cruising altitude in flight over Pennsylvania, and while en route to Dallas from New York City. The pilots and aircraft made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport after the aircraft crew and passengers initially experienced depressurization of the cabin and debris flying through the cabin toward the hole in the broken window.
Jennifer Riordan, who was a bank executive and mother of two, died when the engine exploded and shrapnel broke a window on the aircraft she was traveling. Initial investigation discovered that Jennifer Riordan was critically injured as she was extruded out the window as high pressure air in the cabin rushed out toward the lower pressure atmosphere outside the aircraft at over 30,000 feet. Passengers were able to pull Riordan back into the aircraft, but the passengers discovered she was in cardiac arrest.
The woman was entrapped in the window opening for several minutes as several passengers attempted to bring her back into the aircraft, according to passengers interviewed by CNN. Eventually, two men were able to pull her back into her seat. Then a nurse, and several other medical personnel that were passengers attempted to revive Riordan with CPR.
The conditions in the aircraft cabin during depressurization likely made it difficult to immediately pull Riordan back into the aircraft.
According to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), at higher altitudes (and in a depressurized cabin), the partial pressure of oxygen in the bloodstream becomes significantly reduced to a level that a person can’t breathe fast enough or deep enough to maintain enough oxygen in the body for normal physiological functioning. The common symptoms of hypoxia include increased breathing rate, dizziness, headache, sweating, reduced peripheral vision, and fatigue; but the most insidious symptom is a feeling of euphoria. Pilots suffering from hypoxia often experience a false sense of security rather than a sense of the danger inherent to the dangerous situation. This is the reason that oxygen masks drop down when the aircraft cabin loses pressure.
For pilots, the adverse effects of hypoxia are described in terms of time of useful consciousness (TUC), which is a measure of a person’s ability to function in a meaningful way. AOPA reports, “In other words, it’s a kind of threshold on the pathway to becoming, first, something like a drooling idiot, and second, unconscious and certifiably out of it.”
EPT is defined as the time from the loss of significant oxygen to the time when you are no longer able to perform tasks in a safe and efficient manner. The two classifications have similar thresholds and timeframes. Note that at the time of the jet engine explosion when altitude was over 30,000 feet, the crew and passengers had only 30 seconds to 2 minutes to attain supplemental oxygen before becoming functionally useless to help themselves.
TIME OF USEFUL CONSCIOUSNESS
15,000 feet Indefinite
20,000 feet 10 minutes
22,000 feet 6 minutes
24,000 feet 3 minutes
26,000 feet 2 minutes
28,000 feet 1 minute
30,000 feet 30 seconds
35,000 feet 20 seconds
40,000 feet 15 seconds
EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE TIME (EPT)
15-18,000 feet 30 minutes plus
22,000 feet 5 to 10 minutes
25,000 feet 3 to 5 minutes
28,000 feet 2.5 to 3 minutes
30,000 feet 1 to 2 minutes
35,000 feet 30 to 60 seconds
40,000 feet 15 to 20 seconds
45,000 feet 9 to 15 seconds
At 30,000 when air is rushing out of the aircraft, the air temperature outside can be -30°F or colder.
At lower altitudes, passengers said they felt air rushing back in through the window and also noticed smoke entering the cabin from a small engine fire. The fire was extinguished on the ground by firefighters at Philadelphia International Airport.
Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Adam Thiel reported that one person was transported to a hospital in critical condition and that seven other victims were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
Fan Blade Separated from Hub
“The number thirteen fan blade was separated and missing and it was separated at the point of where it would come into the hub,” he said. “Our preliminary examination of this was that there’s evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated.”
— National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said that a fan blade separated from the hub of the engine, and that the engine’s cowling was found on the ground about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia. The engine cowling is the removable cover of an aircraft engine. There were 24 fan blades in the normal engine before the explosion. NTSB investigators won’t complete their determination of the cause of the engine failure for several months.
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