Southwest Airlines has taken the spotlight off fellow US low-cost carrier Allegiant Air - who’s under scrutiny following a 60 Minutes probe into its safety standards - after an engine on one its planes exploded mid-air resulting in the death of a passenger.
According to a Southwest statement, flight WN1380 was flying from New York LaGuardia (LGA) to Dallas Love Field (DAL) when crew reported issues with the number one engine “which resulted in damage to the fuselage”.
That damage included a missing window, which almost sucked a female passenger out of the plane, aviation authorities and witnesses reported. While other flyers were able to pull her back into the aircraft, she had already sustained serious injuries. At this stage it is not known if this passenger was the woman who died.
The plane was then diverted to Philadelphia International Airport, where it made an emergency landing.
National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) data shows that the death of Jennifer Riordan, 43, was the first fatality in American commercial aviation since 2009.
According to Reuters, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt told a press conference an initial probe found an engine fan blade missing as well as metal fatigue at the point where the piece is usually attached.
“It is very unusual so we are taking this event extremely seriously,” said Sumwalt, who revealed that part of the engine’s covering had been found about 70 miles (113 kms) from the Philadelphia airport.
“This should not happen and we want to find out why it happened so that preventative measures can be put in place.”
An update from Southwest said the plane was carrying 144 passengers and five crew, whom the carrier thanked for “professionally and swiftly” taking care of its customers during the emergency diversion and landing.
“We have activated our emergency response team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy,” it said.
“Southwest is in the process of gathering additional information regarding flight 1380 and will fully cooperate in an investigative process.”
In a further update, Southwest said it would be accelerating its existing inspection of the CFM56 engine family.
“The accelerated inspections are being performed out of an abundance of caution and are expected to be completed over the next 30 days,” it said.
Minimal disruptions are expected during the course of the inspections.