'From her waist above, she was outside of the plane': Southwest Airlines passengers on mid-air horror

The victim, Jennifer Riordan, was nearly sucked out of the aircraft when cabin pressure was lost after a window shattered. She was pulled back in by other passengers.
The victim, Jennifer Riordan, was nearly sucked out of the aircraft when cabin pressure was lost after a window shattered. She was pulled back in by other passengers. PHOTOS: UNITED WAY OF CENTRAL NEW MEXICO, FACEBOOK/MARTY MARTINEZ

NEW YORK - The woman who died when an engine exploded on a Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines flight on Tuesday (April 18) was nearly sucked out of the aircraft when cabin pressure was lost after a window shattered, but was pulled back in by other passengers.

According to a passenger on the flight, Mr Marty Martinez, "everybody was going crazy, and yelling and screaming".

Mr Martinez said objects flew out of the hole where the window had exploded, and "passengers right next to her were holding onto (the woman being pulled out)".

A man in a cowboy hat rushed forward a few rows "to grab that lady to pull her back in", Mr Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas, told the Associated Press. "She was out of the plane. He couldn't do it by himself, so another gentleman came over and helped to get her back in the plane, and they got her."

"And, meanwhile, there was blood all over this man's hands. He was tending to her," Mr Martinez told CNN.

He said that other passengers tried to plug the hole with jackets and other objects, but those were also sucked out of the plane. 

The woman who was injured "made no noise at all", he said.

The dead woman was identified as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan by the Associated Press. She was a vice-president of community relations for Wells Fargo & Co in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and leaves behind a husband and two children.

Mr Eric Zilbert, an administrator with the California Education Department who was on the flight, said: "From her waist above, she was outside of the plane."

 
 
 

Passengers struggled to plug the hole while giving the badly injured woman CPR.

According to CNN, the flight data recorder showed the plane was at 32,500 feet when the engine failed about 20 minutes into the flight.

Ms Amanda Bourman, another passenger on the flight, described the scene to The Aiken Standard.

"I heard this woman scream about midway up the plane and then all of a sudden I saw this big, tall cowboy," she said.

"You could hear the wind whooshing like out of the plane itself. We thought a door had popped open, but we found out later that a window had broken and a woman was being sucked out of the plane. The cowboy then pulled her back into the plane and somehow covered the window itself."

"I just remember holding my husband's hand, and we just prayed and prayed and prayed," Ms Bourman, of New York, told The Associated Press.

"And the thoughts that were going through my head of course were about my daughters, just wanting to see them again and give them a big hug so they wouldn't grow up without parents."

"Everybody was crying and upset," she said. "You had a few passengers that were very strong, and they kept yelling to people, you know, 'It's OK! We're going to do this!'"

Ms Bourman said she saw emergency workers use a defibrillator to help the woman after she was taken off the plane when it landed. She also saw the man in a cowboy hat had a bandage around his arm after the plane landed.

“I think, like most passengers, I thought I was going to die,” Mr Matt Tranchin, 34, told The New York Times. 

Soon after the explosion, a woman near the window was partially sucked out, Mr Max Kraidelman, 20, a college student who was on the flight, said. 

“The top half of her torso was out the window,” he said. “There was a lot of blood because she was hit by some of the shrapnel coming off the engine after it exploded.” 

Mr Kraidelman said passengers and flight attendants struggled “to drag her back into the aircraft”. 

When they did, she was unconscious and seriously injured, and flight attendants and passengers tried to revive her. Upon seeing the scene, one flight attendant began to cry, Mr Tranchin said. 

“They were doing CPR on her and using the defibrillator while we were landing,” Mr Kraidelman said. “They were working on her while everyone else had their oxygen mask on.” 

Mr Tranchin said that one of the passengers helping had at one point placed his lower back up against the opening in the plane, in an apparent effort to help with the compression.

The man did this for the next 20 minutes, Mr Tranchin said, adding that the man later told him that the pressure at his back had been extreme. 

In the meantime, passengers wept and screamed for roughly 10 or 15 minutes, oxygen masks strapped to their faces, Mr Kraidelman said. 

Mr Tranchin said he spent those precious minutes texting goodbyes to people important in his life. 

“It’s a wild experience,” he said. “It’s not a couple minutes of freaking out and frantically saying goodbye; it’s 25 minutes of sustained fear that this was the end.” 

“What do you say to your pregnant wife and your parents in your final moments?” he added. “That’s what I was trying to figure out.” 

Mr Tranchin said he wanted his wife to tell his son how important it is to follow his dreams; he wanted to tell her to find love again. 

About two minutes before the plane landed, passengers got cellphone reception, so he called his wife and told her they were about to make an emergency landing. 

As the craft descended, “it was shaking, it was vibrating, it was tilting to one side”, Mr Kraidelman said. 

Mr Tranchin said passengers were repeatedly told to “brace for impact”.

“At that point,” Mr Tranchin said, “I thought I had a better than 50-50 chance of surviving.” 

“You can see the ground, we’re level,” he continued. “It’s crash landing, but it’s doable.” 

That the landing ended up being smooth was “nothing short of extraordinary”, he said.

Passengers did "some pretty amazing things under some pretty difficult circumstances", said Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel.