In a terrifying incident that realized flyers’ biggest fear, Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing Tuesday morning at the Philadelphia International Airport, executed by pilot Tammie Jo Shults and her Southwest crew. Less than an hour into the flight—which had been headed from New York to Dallas—the aircraft’s left engine exploded, dispelling debris that shattered a window and depressurized the cabin, causing one woman to be partially sucked out of the aircraft before flight attendants and passengers pulled her back in. The passenger, identified as Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from New Mexico, was killed. Seven others were injured.
While the world reacts to the shocking event—both the loss of life and the courageous actions of the flight staff and passengers—the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating what happened. It’s not yet known what caused the Boeing 737’s engine failure, but the NTSB suspects it involved an engine fan blade that had detached as a result of metal fatigue. The tragic incident marks the first passenger fatality caused by an accident on a U.S.-operated airline in nine years. It also marks Southwest’s first-ever in-flight death caused by an accident, Bloomberg reports.
The horrific accident will undoubtedly leave certain flyers with a level of unease moving forward. So what can travelers learn from the Flight 1380 calamity?
Pay attention to safety instructions
At the simplest level, even seasoned flyers are reminded to listen to and consider the flight attendant’s safety speech, whether it’s delivered in person or on a video screen. After the incident, former flight attendant Bobby Laurie pointed out on Twitter that, in a Facebook photo posted by a Flight 1380 passenger, almost every person shown was wearing their oxygen mask incorrectly.
PEOPLE: Listen to your flight attendants! ALMOST EVERYONE in this photo from @SouthwestAir #SWA1380 today is wearing their mask WRONG. Put down the phone, stop with the selfies.. and LISTEN. **Cover your NOSE & MOUTH. #crewlife #psa #listen #travel #news #wn1380 pic.twitter.com/4b14lZulGm — Bobby Laurie (@BobbyLaurie) April 17, 2018
The Southwest flight’s engine failure occurred at around 30,000 feet in the air—an altitude at which the improper usage of an oxygen mask can put a passenger at risk of losing consciousness. The abruptness and violence of the explosion left no time for a procedural refresher on oxygen mask operation or the location of emergency exits, proving why it’s ever-important to listen to safety instructions before takeoff.
Do your best to remain calm
Captain Shults was unwaveringly calm as she related the details of the alarming situation, and her immediate need to land the aircraft, to air-traffic controllers. In an audio recording from Flight 1380’s emergency landing, the U.S. Navy veteran (who was one of the first women to fly the formidable McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet) can be heard stating, “We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.”
Robert L. Sumwalt, the NTSB’s chairman, told the New York Times that having listened to the air-traffic control communications from Tuesday, Shults and her copilot seemed to have done “an excellent job,” and continued: “As a fellow airline pilot, my hat’s certainly off to them.”
Tammie Jo Shults, hero pilot who safely landed Southwest plane after one of its engines failed, was among the Navy’s first female pilots trained to fly fighter aircraft. https://t.co/GnfDrQJ1yl pic.twitter.com/9EK8n1XHSP — ABC News (@ABC) April 18, 2018
The heroic handling of the event—from Shults’s level-headed radio patter to flight attendants’ deft management of panicking passengers—was the product of preparation: hundreds of hours of training and drills, in the air and on the ground. It’s arguably that quiet, calm preparedness that prevented this disaster from escalating.
Don’t be afraid to help
Equally as courageous during Tuesday’s accident were the people on Southwest Flight 1380, many of whom reportedly stepped in to add assistance amid the mayhem. As 6abc Action News reported, a retired nurse, identified as Peggy Phillips, and an EMT on the flight performed CPR on a seriously injured Riordan for more than 20 minutes after she was pulled partially out of the aircraft. While passengers and flight attendants were attempting to save Riordan’s life, other passengers did what they could to prevent the cabin from further pressurizing. “A witness said that one of the passengers had placed his lower back up against the opening in the plane, in an apparent effort to help with the compression,” the New York Times reported.
During in-flight emergency situations, it’s helpful to remember that while your pilot and flight attendants are trained to handle problems in the air, each passenger also has a skill set of their own that could potentially be of use. Don’t be afraid to help in whatever way you feel able.
NTSB investigators on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane. pic.twitter.com/2dyDzOW8pT — NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) April 18, 2018
There is much to glean from this tragic aviation moment. Bad things do happen to travelers—and not just bona fide catastrophes like the one that took Ms. Riordan’s life. Captain Shults and her cabin crew were planning for a routine flight but experienced something less than routine. The smartest travelers—like the smartest flight crews—are those who plan for the best but are prepared for the worst.