One person was confirmed dead and seven injured Tuesday after the left engine of a passenger jet exploded, causing a harrowing in-flight incident that ended with an emergency landing in the eastern US city of Philadelphia.
The Southwest Airlines plane with 149 people on board lost pressure after the engine failed at an altitude of about 10,000 metres. With oxygen masks deployed, panicked passengers sent messages to loved-ones and posted on social media that they believed they were experiencing the last moments of their lives.
The person who died was fatally injured after she was partially sucked out of the plane after window blew out when the cabin decompressed, according to passenger accounts in US media reports. The woman was pulled back in by other passengers.
“We are deeply saddened to confirm that there is one fatality resulting from this accident,” Southwest said in a statement.
“The entire Southwest Airlines Family is devastated and extends its deepest, heartfelt sympathy to the Customers, Employees, Family Members, and loved ones affected by this tragic event. We have activated our Emergency Response Team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy.”
In a video statement posted on Twitter, Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly confirmed the passenger’s death “with great sadness” and spoke of a “tragic loss.”
National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt had earlier also confirmed a fatality in the incident, but provided no further details. Seven people were treated at the scene for minor injuries, Sumwalt said.
The Southwest Airlines plane took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Dallas, Texas. It reported a problem at 11:13 am (1513 GMT) and landed 14 minutes later, officials said.
Passengers on the plane reported hearing an explosion after the Boeing 737 jet climbed to about 10,000 metres. There was a second explosion, and the cabin immediately decompressed as oxygen masks deployed, according passengers who posted photos of themselves on social media preparing for the emergency landing.
The second blast might have been the sound of a window blowing out, one passenger said. The plane experienced violent turbulence as it stabilized and began its rapid descent into Philadelphia, the passenger reported on Twitter.
Photos posted on Twitter show images of the damaged engine and fuselage as well as a missing window.
Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said firefighters doused the plane with fire-retardant foam to prevent fuel from igniting as passengers escaped.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it is sending a team to Philadelphia to investigate the Southwest Airlines engine incident, accompanied by its chairman, Sumwalt.