Andrew Needum, a Celina, Texas, firefighter, sprang into action on Tuesday when Jennifer Riordan was partially sucked through the window of a Southwest plane as an engine explosion caused the aircraft to drop thousands of feet in mere minutes.
In a Thursday press conference from the Celina fire station, Needum said that he was returning to Texas after a New York vacation with his wife, parents and his two children. Needum, 34, said that when the plane reached about 32,000 feet in the air, he heard a “loud pop.”
After he and his family put on their oxygen masks, Needum said he heard “commotion” in the rear of the plane. He rushed to the back and helped fellow passenger Tim McGinty pull Riordan back inside the plane after shrapnel from the engine explosion shattered a window, and nearly sucked the mom of two out into the air.
“I went to the rear of the plane and what took place back there, I’m gonna leave — out of respect for [Riordan’s] family — I’m gonna leave that alone,” Needum told reporters on Thursday. “I never was in fear for my life. I’m trained for emergency situations. That’s just exactly what it was. I felt moved to act, as well as other people on that plane.”
Flight 1380 from New York City made an emergency landing in Philadelphia that morning after the explosion sent a piece of shrapnel flying into the aircraft. The plane suddenly depressurized and descended from more than 30,000 feet to about 10,000 feet in about five minutes, CNN reports. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt told CNN that one of the plane’s 24 fan blades was missing.
Although Needum did not give details about the incident, many passengers have spoke out about the moments Riordan was nearly swept through the window.
“The top half of her torso was out the window,” passenger Max Kraidelman, 20, told the New York Times. “There was a lot of blood because she was hit by some of the shrapnel coming off the engine after it exploded.”
Peggy Phillips, a retired nurse, told ABC News that she performed CPR on Riordan for about 20 minutes after McGinty and Needum pulled her inside.
“If you can possibly imagine going through the window of an airplane at about 600 miles an hour and hitting either the fuselage or the wing with your body, with your face,” Phillips said, calling the ordeal “terrifying.”
“I can probably tell you there was significant trauma to the body,” she added.
Witnesses reported that Riordan went into cardiac arrest and passenger Kristopher Johnson told PEOPLE that the woman hit her head during the incident. She was pronounced dead later at a Philadelphia hospital. Riordan died from blunt impact trauma to her head, neck and torso, Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesman James Garrow said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
“She had two loving kids and a loving husband and a community around her that loved her,” Needum said at the press conference, as he appeared to become emotional. “My heart is broken for them … I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
His children, aged 8 and 5, believe their is a “hero,” according to Needum’s family, who joined him for the press conference. But the seasoned firefighter said he doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m no different that any other firefighter in the country,” he said. “For some reason — whatever reason that is — it was me that day.”
According to her LinkedIn account, Riordan had been the Vice President of Community Relations for Wells Fargo for almost 10 years. Her family released a statement provided to PEOPLE writing, describing Riordan as “the bedrock of our family.”
“Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country. Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured,” the statement continued.