Dallas Law Firm Blog

After Near-Death Experience, Passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 May Face PTSD

The passengers on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 spent 20 agonizing minutes bracing themselves for what many of them thought would be their death. Amid dangling oxygen masks and swirling debris, many tried desperately to connect to the plane’s Wi-Fi system to send loved ones their goodbyes. Many prayed.

The 144 passengers and five crew members aboard the Dallas-bound flight were only 20 minutes into a four-hour flight when the left engine exploded after a fan blade broke off. One woman, a mother of two and a Wells Fargo executive from Albuquerque, suffered blunt trauma from the explosion and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The harrowing accounts from passengers illustrate the chaos and terror on board. Few of us can imagine experiencing such a traumatic event, but even those casually familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can understand why these passengers will need significant counseling to cope with the psychological fallout of the incident.

Understanding PTSD

When someone has a near-death experience, they typically suffer a serious psychological injury in the form of PTSD. While many people have likely heard about the condition in the context of soldiers and war zones, it’s something that people also suffer in more common situations, like vehicle accidents or assaults.

Incidents like a car crash can last only a few seconds, but the imprint left on a person’s mind can last for several years and take an incredible toll on a sufferer. Flashbacks, nightmares and frightening thoughts might emerge in the months that followed the incident, though it’s not unusual for these symptoms to occur years later. People with PTSD can experience several consequences, including anxiety, mood swings, changes in common routines and a tendency to re-experience the symptoms they felt during the initial incident.

Immediate counseling and treatment are vital to prevent the condition from becoming more permanent.

The longer someone goes without getting help, the greater the risk of long-term consequences.

Imagine 20 Minutes of Terror

Brief traumatic moments can lead to PTSD. If you’ve ever been in a vehicle crash, you might be familiar with how terrifying those moments can be and what kind of impact they can have on your mind. Now imagine a full 20 minutes of panic, experiencing such an intense episode of stress that it pushes our mind’s capacity to cope.

The fact that someone died in this incident makes it a tragedy. Had it not been for the composure of the pilots, Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor, Southwest Flight 1380 would have been an even bigger disaster.

The incident raises questions that regulators, airlines and safety advocates will be discussing for weeks and months to come. Most notably, there’s the issue of inspections and why an engine would have exploded after being cleared by a visual inspection only two days earlier. Southwest Airlines, along with every other airline, needs to learn from this incident to ensure it isn’t repeated.

The airline is also responsible for ensuring that the survivors of this flight are tended to. In addition to the tragic death and serious injuries, the passengers all suffered severe psychological trauma. We hope that Southwest takes that fact seriously and offers their passengers everything they need to cope with the consequences.

To speak to Michael Guajardo and Greg Marks, call us at 972-774-9800 or fill out our online contact form.