Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 – A Cabin Crew Perspective

Simple Flying - Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 - A Cabin Crew Perspective

A horrifying event that no one could have foreseen.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 was a regularly scheduled service, taking off from LaGuardia Airport, New York, on April 17th, 2018. The Boeing 737-700 was headed for the airline’s operating base at Dallas Love Field Airport; there was a four-hour flight ahead. There were 144 passengers onboard and five crew members. Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor worked in the flight deck. Flight attendants Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Mallory, and Kathryn Sandoval were in the cabin.

What happened?

The take-off was completely normal, and the first 30 minutes were uneventful. Unfortunately, at 11:03 local time, at 32,000 feet, pieces of the left engine inlet and fan cowl separated from the aircraft. Fragments from the inlet and cowl impacted the left side of the fuselage, the left wing, and the left horizontal stabilizer.

One piece in the fuselage hit near a cabin window at row 14, and the window separated from the aircraft. The probable cause, according to the NTSB report, was a low cycle fatigue crack in the dovetail of fan blade no. 13, resulting in the blade separating in flight. This led to a rapid decompression.

In the flight deck

All was normal, then the aircraft yawed to the left, and alarms went off in the cockpit. There was a puff of gray smoke, and they could see that the cabin had lost air pressure. They donned their oxygen masks, and the first officer started an emergency descent. A severe vibration was felt coming from the left engine. Five seconds later, the cabin altitude alert activated. The aircraft rolled 40 degrees before they could counter the roll. The aircraft had become challenging to fly because of the extensive damage, so the captain took over while the first officer carried out the emergency checklist.

“Is your airplane physically on fire?”
– Air Traffic Control
“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it is missing. They said there’s a hole and uh, someone went out.”
– Captain Tammie Jo Shults
Live ATC

In the cabin

The passengers were waiting for their drinks and snacks. Some were reading or playing sudoku, and some watched movies. At 11:03, Rachel was in the cabin around rows four and five. Seanique was in the forward lavatory. Kathryn was in the aft galley preparing for the inflight service. They heard a loud noise and severe vibration before the oxygen masks dropped. The flight attendants went to their jump seats, strapped themselves in, and grabbed their oxygen masks. The aircraft was descending fast. The cabin air was swirling with wind and debris.

Passengers grabbed at the oxygen masks, struggling to put them on. Some were trying to send last messages to their loved ones. One passenger streamed live on Facebook. The flight attendants then went on to portable oxygen and moved through the cabin to assist passengers. Most passengers were fearful and holding hands or praying, thinking they might die. Rachel noticed that many passengers only had their oxygen masks over their mouths and started to correct them.

“Look at me! We are going to be ok. We’re going to make it. We are going to Philadelphia and we are here together.”
Rachel – Flight Attendant, told to CBS News

A shocking discovery

As she got to the mid-cabin at row 14, she saw that a female passenger was still restrained by her seat belt, but her head, torso, and arm were out of the window. Rachel asked the passengers in 14B and C to move ‘In case the hole got bigger.’ Rachel and Seanique grabbed her and tried to pull her back in but struggled because of the cabin pressure and altitude outside. Passengers seated at 8D and 13D helped them to pull the passenger back inside. She was unconscious and bleeding badly. They lay the passenger down on 14ABC. Rachel looked outside to see the shattered engine and blood on the fuselage.

“We got… a window open and somebody is out the window. Yeah, everyone still in their seats. We have people have been helpin’ get her in. I don’t know what her condition is but the window is completely out.”
Seanique – Flight Attendant, told to ABC13

Rachel went to the aft galley to use the interphone and alert the flight crew of the passenger’s condition. She also made an announcement asking for medical assistance from qualified passengers. A paramedic seated in 8D and a retired nurse in 11C started CPR on the injured passenger. Seanique fetched the AED, CPR mask, and fast response kit from the overhead locker. They continued CPR throughout the flight, and another passenger helped give rescue breaths.

The descent

The captain asked air traffic control if they could divert. They decided on Philadelphia as the airport had better facilities for dealing with an emergency landing. ATC provided them with the vectors for Philadelphia. It was just 2.5 minutes from the engine failure. Communication was difficult because of the oxygen masks, the noise, and the distraction, but it improved as they got lower. The first officer wanted to check the status of the cabin. He used the interphone to call the flight attendants. Kathryn picked up the interphone but could not hear anything but noise. Seanique managed to get in contact with the flight deck. The captain had planned a long final approach to ensure that they went through all the checklists, but on hearing that a passenger was severely injured, she expedited the landing. She told ATC about the injured passenger and requested medics be ready on the ground. The captain announced that they were diverting to Philadelphia.

The landing

Passengers watched as the flight attendants ensured their seat belts were fastened. The jump seats at the rear were full with the passengers moved from row 14 and an airline employee. One flight attendant couldn’t return to her seat in time. So the flight attendants sat on the floor where they could, held down by passengers. As they came to land, the flight attendants shouted their commands, ‘Heads down, stay down’ in preparation for the emergency landing. The aircraft landed safely at 11:20 with applause, and passengers sent messages and called loved ones, saying they were ok.

The captain asked that the passengers remain in their seats and await instructions from the flight attendants. Seanique disarmed the forward doors and Kathryn the rear doors. Rachel stayed with the injured passenger. The passengers from 8D and 11C continued CPR. The cabin was quiet as the medics came onboard and took the injured passenger away on a stretcher. Sadly, she was declared dead later at the hospital. She had blunt force trauma to the head, neck and torso. The flight attendants checked on the seven passengers who had minor injuries.

After the event

On the day of the event, a representative from the United States Secretary of Transportation said, ‘I commend the pilots who safely landed the aircraft and the crew and fellow passengers who provided support and care for the injured, preventing what could have been far worse.’ On May 1st, 2018, then-US President Donald Trump welcomed the crew and select passengers to the White House, thanking them for their heroism.

“We didn’t have to communicate verbally with each other because we just had trust and we were able to just do what we needed to do. But to communicate with our passengers we had to have a very loud, stern but caring voice.”
Rachel – Flight Attendant

SOURCE: Simple Flying