After the engine blew on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 and shrapnel from the explosion shattered one of the plane’s windows on Tuesday, a female passenger aboard became torn between attempting to save a woman whose upper body was being sucked out of the broken window and protecting the child beside her.
Passenger Hollie Mackey was among the 149 passengers and crew members who strapped on oxygen masks and waited as pilot Tammie Jo Shults guided the plane toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.
Mackey, a University of Oklahoma professor, was seated in 14C, and Jennifer Riordan, the woman who died in the accident, was seated in 14A, a window seat. Between the two women sat a young girl, likely middle school aged, though smaller in size, according to Mackey.
“So I had clicked my seat belt back on and I was going to get something out of my bag. And then there was a big boom, and we were all very confused for a second. Just at the same time, there was a boom and this cold air and this sucking sound. We were all just looking around. We didn’t know what was going on,” Mackey told KTVQ.
After the window shattered, Riordan’s upper body was pulled out of the plane. Mackey and the young girl attempted to pull Riordan back inside, but failed.
“When I saw Jennifer…I had leaned over and grabbed on to her belt loops and her waist and wrapped my arm around her waist and tried to pull,” Mackey said. “And the little girl next to me also tried to pull with me, and we tried to pull her back in, and we couldn’t. We were not strong enough. All we could do was stay calm, because if we didn’t then there would be even more panic in the plane.”
Mackey recalled, “The little girl with her itty bitty hands tried to help me.”
Fellow passengers Tim McGinty and Andrew Needum, whom Mackey called “a godsend,” pulled Riordan’s body back inside the cabin.
Needum, a Texas firefighter, recalled hearing commotion behind him. His wife indicated that it was okay for him to leave her and attempt to save Riordan. Out of respect for Riordan’s family, he declined to provide details of his rescue efforts.
“I feel for her family,” Needum said. “I feel for her two kids, her husband, the community that they lived in.”
Mackey said that when it became apparent that they could not save Riordan, “All we knew we could do was stay with her and get her home.”