One person was killed after a Southwest flight en route from New York to Dallas made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, the airline said on Tuesday, marking the first fatal U.S. commercial plane accident since 2009.
Southwest Flight 1380 made the landing at Philadelphia International Airport after its crew reported issues with one of the engines that resulted in damage to the fuselage, or main body of the plane.
"We have activated our emergency response team and are deploying every resource to support those affected by this tragedy," Southwest said in a statement.
In a recording of the conversation with air traffic control, the pilot can be heard requesting a medical team to tend to injured passengers upon landing. When asked if the plane was on fire, the pilot said no but that part of the aircraft was missing.
The passenger's death breaks a nearly decade-long stretch without a fatality aboard a commercial airplane in the U.S., said Robert Mann, an aviation consultant based in Long Island, New York. In 2009, a Colgan Air plane crashed near Buffalo, New York, killing 49 people on board and one on the ground. Southwest said it was the first onboard passenger fatality due to an accident in its history.
Southwest Airlines said late Tuesday that it is accelerating its inspections of the engine type that was involved in the incident and that they will likely be completed within 30 days. The tests are ultrasonic inspections of fan blades. Photos released earlier by NTSB appeared to show at least one fan blade missing from the engine involved in Tuesday's incident.
Southwest said it "expects minimal disruption to the operation during the course of the inspections."
The aircraft involved in Tuesday's incident, a Boeing 737-700, had 144 passengers and five crew members on board, according to Southwest.
The plane's engine failed shortly after takeoff, according to local news outlet NBC 10 in Philadelphia. Passengers had rushed to pull a woman who was pulled partly out of the broken window, the Associated Press reported.
Facebook user Marty Martinez posted a video of passengers with oxygen masks over their mouths and photos of a blown-out window.
The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration both said they would investigate the incident. Boeing said it will provide technical assistance.
The 737 was powered by two CFM56 engines, according to flight-tracking service FlightRadar24. CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and France's Safran Aircraft Engines, said in a statement that it "will support the NTSB and Southwest Airlines in determining the cause of the accident," noting that it had sent representatives to the site to help with the investigation.
Engines are designed with a covering so that if an engine experiences an explosion or ingests a foreign object, blades do not fly off and damage the fuselage. Such incidents that damage the fuselage are extremely rare, said Richard Aboulafia, vice president at aviation analysis firm Teal Group. The CFM56 engine is among the most commonly used around the world, he added.
"This is as close as you get to the textbook definition of a workhorse engine," said Aboulafia. "There are still incidents that can only be described as freak."