Nine Sue Southwest Over Fatal Engine Blowout

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CN) – Nine people traumatized after the explosion of a plane engine caused a Southwest Airlines passenger to be sucked out of a window brought a lawsuit Tuesday for punitive damages.

This window was shattered after a jet engine of a Southwest Airlines airplane blew out at altitude on April 17, 2018, causing the death of a woman who was nearly sucked from the window. The explosion occurred about 20 minutes after the Boeing 737 left New York en route to Dallas with 149 people aboard. (Marty Martinez via AP)

Filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, the complaint notes that the explosion on Flight 1380 occurred just 20 minutes after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on April 17, 2018.

“At an altitude of approximately 32,500 feet, the aircraft’s left engine suddenly failed and self-destructed, propelling metal fragments at high velocity against the fuselage and shattering a window, which resulted in explosive and violent decompression of the aircraft cabin,” the complaint states. “Abruptly, a passenger was sucked into the open window, and the other passengers, including plaintiffs, were confronted with their greatest fear, the overwhelming horror of being trapped in a plane about to crash.”

Represented by Atlanta attorney Jonathan Johnson and White Plains attorney Jacqueline James, the plaintiffs include one family of four, a married couple and three other individual passengers.

“During the excruciating moments following the explosion, the plaintiffs endured the horrific fear of a plane crash — suddenly and unexpectedly, they were facing death,” the 20-page complaint states.

Though the pilot on Flight 1380 managed to achieve an emergency landing in Philadelphia, the plaintiffs say each of them now “suffered severe mental, emotional and psychological injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical injuries.”

Jennifer Riordan, the passenger who became stuck in the blown-out window, was the only casualty from the flight, having suffered fatal trauma to her head and neck. Her representatives are not a party to the latest action.

“It was a horrifying experience,” attorney Johnson said in an interview. “Everybody thought they were going to die … and in fact they did observe somebody who did die in the accident.”

Johnson noted that his clients had to stay on the plane after it landed until first responders could remove Riordan’s body.

The engine on a Southwest Airlines plane is inspected as it sits on the runway at the Philadelphia International Airport after it made an emergency landing on April 17, 2018. (Amanda Bourman via AP)

Led by passenger Cindy Arenas, Tuesday’s lawsuit marks the second over the incident on Flight 1380. Lilia Chavez, who sat three rows behind the smashed window, brought the first lawsuit as a federal complaint in Philadelphia on April 26.

As in the Chavez suit, the suit by Arenas names as defendants Southwest Airlines, GE Aviation Systems, Safran USA and CFM International. The Boeing Co. is also named as a defendant in the New York case.

The Federal Aviation Administration ordered emergency inspections of the engine fan blades to determine whether metal fatigue caused a break. A final report has not yet been released.

Southwest has reported a decrease in revenue and lower bookings after the incident, its first passenger fatality since the airline was founded in 1967.

The airline has sent $6,000 in checks and travel vouchers to passengers, as well as letters of apology.

A representative for Southwest Airlines declined to comment on pending litigation, but noted that the airline has completed inspections of its CFM56-7B engines that meet or exceed FAA directives and manufacturer guidelines.

Johnson said several of his clients, some of whom were a few rows away from the shattered window, have experienced partial hearing loss as well as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We believe this was avoidable,” Johnson added, noting that Southwest has a “lengthy history” of safety problems.

The attorney credited the pilot of Flight 1380, Tammie Jo Shults, with saving his clients’ lives. “It’s lucky they had someone like that in the cockpit,” Johnson said. “It should have been a routine flight. It wasn’t.”

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