As Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 plunged, passenger Hollie Mackey was torn between trying to save a woman whose upper body was being sucked out of a broken window and protecting the child beside her from a similar fate.
When the flight’s engine blew on Tuesday and a window shattered, 149 passengers and crew members strapped on oxygen masks and waited as pilot Tammie Jo Shults steered them toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.
For most people, the experience was filled with uncertainty as debris swirled down the aisle of the Boeing 737 and gusts of wind made it difficult to hear.
But for Mackey, a University of Oklahoma professor, there was nothing uncertain about what happened to Jennifer Riordan, the only person who died.
Hollie Mackey, left, tried to pull Jennifer Riordan, right, in when she got sucked out of their Southwest flight on Tuesday
Mackey said she was in seat 14C and Riordan, a bank executive from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was in seat 14A, a window seat. Between them sat a young girl – likely middle school age, though smaller in size, Mackey noticed.
‘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.
When the window blew, Riordan’s upper body was pulled out of the plane. Mackey said she and the child tried but failed to bring Riordan back in.
‘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. 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 said.
Riordan was sitting in this seat when the window shattered and she was pulled outside the aircraft. Mackey was sitting in the aisle seat, next to a middle school-age girl in the center seat
This was the Row 14 seat which Riordan was sitting in when she was sucked towards the window at 32,00ft
The window shattered because the plane’s engine exploded, sending debris flying
‘The little girl with her itty bitty hands tried to help me,’ Mackey remembered.
When the two couldn’t save Riordan, Mackey said, they just waited with her.
‘All we knew we could do was stay with her and get her home,’ she said.
To Mackey, it was a ‘godsend’ when fellow passengers Tim McGinty and Andrew Needum tugged Riordan’s body back inside the cabin.
Needum, a Texas firefighter, said he heard commotion behind him and his wife nodded that it was OK to leave her and try to save Riordan. He refused to provide details about his rescue efforts out of respect for Riordan’s loved ones.
‘I feel for her family,’ Needum said. ‘I feel for her two kids, her husband, the community that they lived in.’
Fellow passengers Tim McGinty (left) and Andrew Needum (right) had the strength to pull Riordan in, but by then it was too late
This harrowing image taken before the plane made its emergency landing shows the state of the exploded engine
Mackey said she and others are experiencing survivor guilt, especially because the airline allows passengers to pick their own seats.
‘Why do we choose the seats we choose?’ she asked. ‘Psychologically, I think there’s a lot going on.’
Mackey criticized some media outlets for oversimplifying the rescue efforts, when, she said, amid the chaos, the situation was far more complex.
‘In that moment, we really just made some pretty tough decisions. It was really excellent team work between all of them to try to get Jennifer back in safe and keep everybody else safe at the same time,’ Mackey said.