Safety Board Meeting on Southwest Engine Failure that Caused Fatal Accident

By David Shepardson | November 19, 2019

WASHINGTON — The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is meeting on Tuesday to determine the probable cause of the April 2018 engine failure of Southwest Airlines Co flight 1380 that killed a passenger who was partially sucked out the window.

Jennifer Riordan of New Mexico, a 43-year-old Wells Fargo vice president and mother-of-two, was killed after the engine exploded and shattered a plane window. She was the first person killed in a U.S. passenger airline accident since 2009.

The accident occurred 20 minutes into the flight when a fan blade fractured on a Boeing 737-700 jet powered by two CFM International CFM56-7B engines after taking off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport as a result of a fatigue crack. The plane, bound for Dallas, diverted to Philadelphia International Airport. Eight of the 144 passengers suffered minor injuries.

The NTSB had been investigating a 2016 engine failure on another Southwest 737-700 at the time of the fatal incident. The incident in both flights was what is known as a “fan blade out” (FBO) event.

NTSB chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the hearing opening that: “The fan blade impacted the fan case at a location that was critical to the structural integrity of the fan cowl.”

He added: “This discovery puts manufacturers and aircraft operators in a position to take actions that can ensure the structural integrity of the fan cowl if an FBO event does occur.”

Tammie Jo Shults, the flight’s captain, recounted in her book “Nerves of Steel,” published last month, that the engine’s explosion felt “like we’ve been T-boned by a Mack truck.” She said that the 737-700 rolled to the left and pulled into a dive, but that she and the co-pilot were able to level off the plane.

The engine on the plane’s left side spewed bits of metal when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurization, the NTSB said. In 2018, the NTSB said two passengers eventually pulled Riordan, who was buckled into her seat, back inside the plane.

In November 2018, the NTSB held an investigative hearing that disclosed the flight crew initially had difficulty reaching flight attendants after the engine failed and did not immediately learn a passenger had been injured.

Southwest said in a statement ahead of the hearing it appreciated the work of the NTSB “and each of the parties working to determine the probable cause of the accident. We all have the same goals: to share facts, learn what happened, and prevent this type of event from ever happening again.”

CFM International, the engine manufacturer, is a transatlantic joint venture between General Electric Co and France’s Safran SA. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Alex Richardson)

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