New details emerge of heroism and tragedy on Southwest Flight 1380

Posted: 9:08 PM, Apr 18, 2018
Updated: 2018-04-18 21:08:53-04

NEW YORK — New details continue to emerge about the 22 minutes of life-or-death danger that the passengers and crew of Southwest Flight 1380 experienced about half an hour into their flight from LaGuardia Airport on Tuesday.

Early Wednesday evening, the NTSB released the new information as part of its ongoing probe into why and how the 737's left engine exploded, leaving a female passenger dead.

Tributes to her, as well as to the pilot of the plane have been many, and strong.

The pilot, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, had to control a plane that suddenly banked 41 degrees, from a level and steady position, when there was an explosion in the engine, at 32,000 feet, according to initial information from the flight data recorder, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.

His agency also released new video on Wednesday of the first inspections of the engine by NTSB investigators. The video showed that there was not only extensive damage to the engine, there were also, in at least four different places, chunks of the plane's left wing stripped or missing.

In other words, Capt. Shults flew the Boeing 737 for about 130 miles using just one engine and a damaged wing, after the jetliner shifted up significantly from its course.

"The pilot leveled the wings," said NTSB Chairman Sumwalt. At the moment of impact, he added, "there was a fair amount of vibration."

Passengers have also spoken about what they experienced firsthand.

"The courage it took for her to take control of that situation and really just save everyone on board is really just unbelievable," said passenger Joe Marcus.

He, and 148 other passengers and crew members owe their lives to Capt. Shults's skill and clearheadedness under pressure.

Shults is used to flying under stress. The 57-year-old was actually one of the very first female fighter jet pilots in U.S. Navy history. Overcoming that reversal of national policy, as well as deep naval tradition, was no easy feat. Noting that, it may not be too surprising that Shults kept a remarkably cool head during the entire 22 minutes from the explosion to her safely landing the handicapped aircraft.

Despite Capt. Shults's heroic actions, shrapnel from the explosion shattered one passenger window, creating a vacuum between the pressurized cabin and the high altitude outdoors. It pulled about half of passenger Jennifer Riordan's body out of the window. She had been sitting next to it.

The 43-year-old bank executive and mother of two died from her injuries, after passengers and crew members pulled her back in. The loss of her life is enormous, say people who knew her.

"Jennifer is somebody who embodied everything that is good," said John Traub, a family friend in Riordan's hometown of Albuquerque, where she was known for her extensive community involvement.

"Jennifer was so much more than a kind and contagiously positive colleague," said Jordan Herrington, vice president of commercial real estate at the Bank of Albuquerque, on a web page set up for the dozens of people who knew her to express their condolences.

"She was a selfless leader, an inspiration for others, a mother, a wife and a friend to so many. She was the kind of person who awed you with the amount of things she was able to balance and accomplish in the same hours per day that you had."