Crew of Southwest Flight 1380 describe bond, faith that pulled them through chaos

Posted at 8:15 AM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-23 10:15:32-04

About 20 minutes after Southwest Flight 1380 took off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport on April 17, one of the plane’s engines exploded, sending debris through a passenger window and causing the cabin to lose pressure.

As the Boeing 737 quickly began losing altitude, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor called for an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

Terrified passengers grabbed oxygen masks from the ceiling and one passenger, Jennifer Riordan, was partially sucked out of the window and died. Remarkably, the pilots landed the plane with just one engine.

Shults, Ellisor, and flight attendants Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Mallory and Kathryn Sandoval joined "CBS This Morning" for their first joint, live interview to discuss the harrowing ordeal.

Shults said they while they were relieved to land the plane safely, that success was overshadowed by the death of Riordan.

"The survival of 148 never eclipses the loss of one," Shults said. 

The crew also discussed the shared faith that got them through and how they managed to communicate and stay calm amid the chaos. 

"Well, in LaGuardia when we had a little extra time we were chatting and Rachel had gotten a new Bible with room to journal on the side, and she and Seanique and then Kathryn was talking about she was in a study of Psalms, which is where I’m doing a study in Psalms and Proverbs," Shults said of the meeting the crew had before the flight. "When you talk about things deeper than the weather, your family and faith, the things that matter to you, even if they’re different, it tends to bring a bond." 

That shared faith among the crew, who had never flown together before, didn’t just bond them, it created a sense of communal calm. 

"Well, it was the peace that God had given us all. It’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. Like Tammie Jo said, we came together beforehand and we all talked about God, and not knowing what was going to happen minutes later, God had already prepared us without us even knowing," Seanique Mallory said.

"We didn’t have to communicate verbally with each other because we just had trust and we were able to just do what we needed to do. But to communicate with our passengers we had to have a very loud, stern but caring voice," Rachel Fernheimer added.

Faith and trust also helped them communicate with the terrified passengers, who look to flight attendants in times of uncertainty. 

"I would just grab their hands even if I had to stretch over into a window seat and I would just look into some of their bloodshot eyes and say ‘Look at me. We’re going to be OK. We’re going to make it. We are going to Philadelphia and we are here together.’ And I think that was the most important thing was to just – even though our ears had popped from the rapid decompression and there was wind and debris all throughout the cabin, in the midst of chaos you have to just look at someone. And I think eye contact was the biggest communication during that," Fernheimer said. 

A preliminary finding determined a fatigued engine blade snapped, causing the plane’s engine to tear apart. Southwest Airlines has finished inspecting its engine fan blades after the deadly incident and said it did not find any fatigued blades. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the engine failure.