A woman on a Southwest Airlines flight has died after being partially sucked out of the plane, mid-flight.
Shortly after taking off, the flight from New York to Dallas, Texas, was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. At some point during the first part of the flight, one of the engine blades ripped off the 737 aircraft, causing the engine to fail, Business Insider reports.
The piece of engine shattered a window, and Jennifer Riordan, 43, was partially sucked out of the window, where she was hit with debris. Several other passengers dragged her back inside the plane, according to local reports, while the pilot calmly told air traffic control; “No, [the plane] is not on fire, but part of it’s missing. They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”
Dramatic pictures and footage from people on board the aircraft show the damage done to the engine, as well as the window.
So how does this happen?
When you’re on a plane, you probably notice that you can breathe, despite being thousands of meters above the ground. This is because the inside of the plane has been pressurized.
The air pressure at sea level is around 14.7 pounds per square inch (PSI). As you go higher up into the atmosphere, this drops off. By the time you get to a cruising altitude of 12,200 meters (40,000 feet), this drops below 4 PSI.
Inside the cabin, pressurization systems try to keep the air pressure at around 11-12 pounds per square inch (PSI), so that passengers and the crew can continue to breathe normally. This is obviously a good thing, people need to breathe.
However, the difference in pressure between the inside and outside of the plane can pose a big problem if, for example, the door was to open, or a window was to be damaged and a hole in the aircraft created.
The air will rush out of the aircraft until the air pressure is equalized, possibly taking whoever is nearby with it.
In this case, one woman was dragged partially out of the vehicle and injured by debris, which led to her death. Previous flights have seen several passengers sucked out of the aircraft altogether.
Southwest Airlines have released a statement confirming the fatality, and expressing sympathy to all involved. Investigators have already found signs of metal fatigue at the point where the engine’s blade broke off, Business Insider reports, though the entire investigation will take 12-15 months.