Saturday, April 21, 2018

Rare and Tragic

"That's why they call it an explosive decompression. It is extremely forceful. The differential in pressure, it's very, very significant."
"There's a fog that comes into the cabin. Papers, bags, coats, jackets, everything will head to the breach in the fuselage."
Nora Marshall, former National Transportation Safety Board investigator

"It's instantaneous and it's sustained over a period of time until the pressure inside the aircraft is equal to the pressure outside of the aircraft."
Richard Healing, former NTSB board member, president, Air Safety Engineering
This is the window that was shattered after a jet engine of a Southwest Airlines 737 blew out at altitude, resulting in the death of a woman who was nearly sucked of the plane on April 17. (Marty Martinez)
This is the window that was shattered after a jet engine of a Southwest Airlines 737 blew out at altitude, resulting in the death of a woman who was nearly sucked of the plane on April 17. (Marty Martinez)

The retired nurse, Peggy Phillips, who was among the three people on board Southwest Flight 1380 on Tuesday who courageously attempted to come to the aid of the unfortunate 43-year-old window-side passenger Jennifer Riordan whom a tremendous windstorm of pressure pulled out of her seat and through the shattered window of the Boeing 737-700 when one of its fans malfunctioned and an engine exploded, described what she had witnessed.

"Her seat belt was keeping her held down at the hips. The rest of her was outside the plane", said Ms. Phillips, a retired nurse on the flight. The horribly unfortunate victim's upper body was being violently flung against the plane's fuselage until the concerted effort of the three passengers succeeded in drawing her body back into the plane where they attempted to save her life, providing CPR.

The fan blade on the left engine, weakened by metal fatigue, and which was supposed to have been routinely tested according to the manufacturer's directions, but put on hold, broke loose, the result being engine debris flying everywhere and cracking the plane's window open beside Ms. Riordan's seat, where the immense pressure sucked her halfway out of the plane.

Cabin pressure is a vital issue which took decades for aircraft manufacturers to perfect, to deal with the enormous forces when a pressurized cabin reaches high altitudes. On their way to finding the solution the de Havilland Comet in the 1950s saw three planes and their passengers and crews destroyed over a period of a year when the stresses of pressurization on the square windows caused the fuselages to rupture.

There have been previous occasions when such catastrophic events occurred, when a man was pulled completely through the 10.5-inch by 16-inch opening to his death, even though another passenger made a Herculean effort to pull him back. An American Airlines plane flying at 11,750- feet above Ontario with 67 people aboard, saw its cargo door come off in 1972 but while the loss of pressure in the cargo hold collapsed part of the cabin floor the pilot was able to make an emergency landing and 11 people were injured, but no one died.

Planes flying at high altitudes rely on pressurized air in their cabin to enable people to breathe normally. M.I.T. aerospace professor John Hansman estimated the air flowing outside Southwest Flight 1380 would have generated from 800 to 1,000 pounds of force, more than sufficient to pull Jennifer Riordan out of the plane. She died of blunt impact trauma to the head, neck and torso, according to the medical examiner in Philadelphis where the plane made its emergency landing.
FAA orders more engine inspections after Southwest accident     Apr 20, 2018

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