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 in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Amanda Bourman via AP)
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 in Philadelphia, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Amanda Bourman via AP)

Plane engine explodes mid-air, shrapnel kills passenger

A passenger was killed aboard a Southwest Airlines flight Tuesday when an engine exploded in mid-air, causing shrapnel to shatter the jet's window and the cabin to de-pressurize, according to officials and terrified fliers.

The left engine of Flight 1380 suddenly burst into flames around 11:20 a.m. - about one hour after it left LaGuardia Airport bound for Dallas - as the plane was near Philadelphia.

A piece of shrapnel from the explosion blew out a window, and a female passenger was partially sucked out of the hole, sending her fellow fliers scrambling to her rescue.

"One passenger, a woman … was drawn out towards the out of the plane … [but] was pulled back in by other passengers," Todd Baur, the father of one passenger, told NBC10.

The National Transportation Safety Board confirmed the death of one flier in an afternoon press briefing, though they couldn't immediately say exactly how that person died, or whether they were the woman who was partially sucked out of the window.

Officials are probing the possibility that the engine fire was related to a small fuel leak, Philadelphia Fire Department Commissioner Adam Thiel said at a Tuesday press briefing at Philadelphia International Airport, where the flight made an emergency landing.

Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the NTSB, said the Board is "classifying this as an engine failure," adding that "parts came off the engine."

Another seven people were treated for minor injuries at the airport.

"I imagine it was a difficult flight," Thiel said in what fliers would likely call a gross understatement.

Horrified passengers flooded social media with frantic, live accounts of the mid-air terror.

"Our engine that blew out at 38000 ft.," wrote Amanda Bourman on Instagram, with a photo of the charred remains of the engine. "A window blew out, a man saved us all as he jumped to cover the window."

Bourman also praised the jet's pilot - identified by her as Tammy Jo - for bringing the flight down safely.

"The pilot, Tammy Jo, was so amazing!," she wrote. "God sent his angels to watch over us."

Another passenger, Marty Martinez, said that a female flier suffered a heart attack in the chaos.

"Someone on the plane had a heart attack, and it looks like an engine blew out, then a window was blown open," he said on Facebook. "We are still on the plane and they are trying to revive a woman on the plane."

It remains unclear whether the deceased individual, the woman partially sucked out of the plane, and the woman who suffered the heart attack are the same person.

"Flight attendants ran over calling for passengers to help cover the hole as they broke down and began uncontrollably crying and looking horrified as they looked outside," Martinez captioned a video of him wearing an oxygen mask. "[The] plane dropped dramatically and it looked like fire with ash coming down on everyone thru [sic] the vents."

The Boeing 737-700 made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, where its 143 customers and five crewmembers were being deplaned, Southwest said in a statement.

It read in full: "We are aware that Southwest flight #1380 from New York La Guardia (LGA) to Dallas Love Field (DAL) has diverted to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). We are in the process of transporting Customers and Crew into the terminal. The aircraft, a Boeing 737-700, has 143 Customers and five Crewmembers onboard. We are in the process of gathering more information. Safety is always our top priority at Southwest Airlines, and we are working diligently to support our Customers and Crews at this time."

On the tarmac, Joe Marcus tweeted a photo of the plane's mangled engine, captioned, "What a flight! Made it!! Still here!!"

The airline didn't immediately offer any official insight into what caused the terrifying breakdown.

The NTSB has dispatched a "go-team" to Philadelphia to lead the investigation, while members of the FBI are holding the passengers and crew for interviews.

The engine will be shipped to NTSB headquarters so a team can examine it to try to find the exact cause of its failure.