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‘Sheer panic’ grips cabin of Southwest jet as engine explodes, killing one passenger

When the engine blew up on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas, and the oxygen masks rained down, there was only one thought that dominated Marty Martinez’s mind: sending a goodbye message to his parents.

“I had no reason to be hopeful,” said Martinez, 29, in a phone interview from Philadelphia International Airport after the plane made an emergency landing Tuesday. People were screaming. A window was smashed out by engine debris. Even the flight attendants were crying. “So as the plane was going down, I whipped out my credit card and bought Wi-Fi. I thought that was my only avenue to get a message to the outside.”

That’s how the world came to see the image of Martinez, the founder of a digital marketing company in Dallas, seated in the window seat of row 15 of the Southwest jet, slipping on his mask and then staring into the camera, wide-eyed but remarkably calm, as he prepared for what he believed would be a plane crash that would end his life.

The Boeing 737-700 was carrying 149 people. When the left engine exploded it smashed open a window. One passenger died, U.S. regulators said, marking the first accident-related fatality on a U.S.-registered airline in more than nine years.

A crew member on the plane reported to air traffic controllers that a piece of the plane was missing and “someone went out.” The dead passenger was identified as Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two from New Mexico.

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Photos posted on social media show the front of the left engine had been ripped open. The National Transportation Safety Board has secured the plane’s two crash-proof recorders and planned to ship them to its lab in Washington, said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt.

“This is a sad day,” Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said on a video released by the company. “On behalf of the whole Southwest family, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones of our deceased customer.”

Martinez had been about 30 minutes into his flight home to Dallas and everything seemed fine, he said. Then he heard a loud boom. Before he could register what it might be, the oxygen masks fell down throughout the plane. Then the window exploded inward two rows in front of him.

“That put everyone in sheer panic,” he said.

Nearby passengers huddled around a woman who was slumped in her seat where the window had blown out. She wasn’t moving, he said. Other passengers grabbed anything they could lay their hands on — jackets and coats — to stuff into the broken window.

“A man was helping — there was blood all over him,” Martinez said. “She made no noise at all.”

Martinez could see the damaged engine through his window. He looked around frantically as he tried to process what was happening. When he saw how upset the flight attendants were, “we thought we were in a really bad place. We were going down.”

As Martinez was live-streaming on Facebook, he looked over at his work colleague in the seat next to him. “He looked over to me and was probably wondering, ‘Why is he buying internet right now?’ Meanwhile he’s drafting a text to his wife and sending a message to his unborn son.”

He estimates the plane was descending for at least 10 or 12 minutes. At some point, he was able to get a mobile phone connection and he dialed his mother. She didn’t answer. He sent out a text to friends and colleagues: “I want you you to know that I love you all and thank you for all that you’ve done. I’m so sorry!! Planes going down. I love you guys!”

Then over the intercom came the instructions: “Brace yourself! Brace yourself! Brace yourself!”

The plane landed. The injured woman was taken out first.

“It was only when we had hit the ground and you could tell the plane was slowing down — there was just a sigh of relief and cheers across the plane,” Martinez said. “Everyone was just so grateful to be alive.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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