DALLAS - A North Texas firefighter was one of the heroic passengers on board Southwest Airline Flight 1380 who jumped into action after a deadly engine malfunction.
The Celina Fire Department praised Andrew Needum Thursday morning him for his actions. The 34-year-old firefighter was on a family vacation to New York City to celebrate his parents' wedding anniversary. He says their experience on the flight made them stronger as a family and more resolute in their faith.
"We couldn't be more proud of Andrew Needum! His actions under extreme pressure were exceptional! We are so honored that is is a part of our Celina Fire Department family!" the department said on Twitter.
Needum and other passengers on Tuesday's flight from New York to Dallas pulled 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan back into the plane and performed CPR on her after the window she was sitting next to blew out. She later died from her injuries.
The Celina firefighter said he was just doing what he was trained to do. He said he truly believes God put him and every other person on that plane for a reason.
"God created a servant heart in me and I felt a calling to get up and do something… stand up and act," he said. "I'm no different than any other firefighter in this country. For some reason, whatever reason that is, it was me that day."
Needum was on the plane with his wife, parents and two young children. When the oxygen masks came down, he remembers seeing his parents jump to help each of his children. He saw his wife reach over to help a young mother with a babysitting nearby. He got a subtle nod from her, which he took as permission to go help Riordan and others.
Needum did not want to go into detail about what happened afterward out of respect for Riordan's family.
"There was a family that lost a loved one. I feel for her family. I can't imagine what they're going through," he said. "But I'm thankful that my family is here and we're standing strong. We've had some emotional ups and downs, but God is good and he's carrying us through."
Needum said he's trained for emergency situations and that's exactly what it was. He felt moved to act.
"I just knew that at that moment someone else needed him much more than we did. That's what his calling is: to help. And that's what he did," his wife, Stephanie, said tearfully. "He won't admit it, but his kids see him as a hero. And we keep turning back to God placed us there for a reason. God placed Daddy there for a reason."
Needum says he fortunate to be working as a firefighter in Celina.
"I had the opportunity to come home to Celina and serve those who helped raise me into the man that I am today," he said.
An investigation into what caused the catastrophic engine failure is still underway. National Transportation Safety Board found a blade in the plane's engine that showed signs of metal fatigue. It broke off midair, causing the engine to blow apart. The plane tilted more than 40 degrees before making that emergency landing in Philadelphia.
"What they're trying to zero in on and focus on is whether or not they have issues with ongoing metal fatigue that are gonna lead to additional and further catastrophic failures," said Ron McCallum with McCallum and Associates Law Firm.
"What we will do is lay out those parts once we get them on the hanger floor and try to literally piece them back together to figure out what went where," added National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt.
The Federal Aviation Administration is now ordering ultrasonic inspections on engine fan blades after a certain number of takeoffs and landings. Any blades that fail inspection will have to be replaced.