The pilots of a Southwest Airlines jet are describing the chaos that followed a fatal engine explosion high above Pennsylvania last month.
Tammie Jo Shults and Darren Ellisor say everything seemed normal when they took off from New York on April 17. But about 20 minutes later there was a loud bang, oxygen masks fell, and the plane began to vibrate and tilt to one side.
Shults, the captain, says it got so loud in the cockpit that the pilots communicated partly with hand signals.
The pilots say they didn’t know right away that a passenger had been fatally injured when a piece of the broken engine shattered a window. They made an emergency landing in Philadelphia.
The crew was interviewed for a segment of ABC’s “20/20” scheduled to air Friday night.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, with early attention focusing on a fan blade that broke off. Investigators say the blade showed signs of microscopic cracks caused by wear and tear. Federal officials ordered rapid inspections of the blades in older engines on Boeing 737 jets.
After the engine explosion, Ellisor, the co-pilot, flew the plane while Shults talked to air traffic controllers. They dove to reach an altitude where passengers could breathe without oxygen masks, and Shults took the controls for the landing.
The twin-engine Boeing 737, which was bound for Dallas, carried 144 passengers and five crew members.
Shults said she wasn’t supposed to be on the flight. She had traded with her husband, also a Southwest pilot, so that she could watch their son’s track meet.
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