Photo: Michelle Lillywhite
DALLAS, Texas (KTVU) - A Bay Area native is thankful to be alive and have her feet solidly planted on the ground after 17 minutes of "pure terror" on a Southwest flight Tuesday.
Gianna Baur is originally from Concord but lives in Dallas now. She was en route home to her husband when the jet blew an engine at 32,000 feet and got hit by shrapnel that smashed a window.
Baur tells KTVU, "Flying has never been a fear of mine. I actually quite enjoy it and use it as my down time to not get Wi-Fi and to rest and read and do my own thing. But ironically this trip I did purchase the in-flight Wi-Fi." Baur used the Wi-Fi to send goodbye messages to her husband, trying to convey how much she loved him in what she thought were her final moments alive.
About halfway through the flight the noise of an explosion rattled the plane. The plane dropped in what Baur describes as a free fall, the oxygen masks came down immediately as panic set in. A flight attendant began praying over the loudspeaker, according to Baur.
In that moment, Baur started texting her husband, "We thought we were dying... I was shaking so much I couldn't even form words of what was happening. I could just tell him the oxygen masks came down and that was all I could even say to relay the scary thing that was happening."
Baur said when a window blew out, shattering, she heard what she describes as "bloody murder screaming." Baur turned around in her seat to see a woman, who appeared to be limp, being tended to by other passengers. "I thought she had just passed out. But she was actually being suctioned out of the window," said Baur. She says the woman had to be physically pulled into the plane and another passenger was performing CPR on her in the aisle. The woman died from her injuries and was later identified as 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan , a mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"There were 17 minutes of pure terror knowing that at any moment, it could have been me that lost my life and not the wonderful woman that did," said Baur in a Facebook post.
After the window shattered Baur said passengers still didn't know what was wrong with the plane. "I didn't know the engine had exploded. There was so much debris and smoke coming in through the window. It was terrifying."
A man sitting near Baur watching flight tracker told her the plane was dropping thousands of feet at a time. Gianna Baur she said.
At one point, Baur said the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, made an announcement that they were making an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Baur is thankful for the flight attendants she calls "amazing." She said they were walking up and down the aisle - some crying - to make sure everyone had their oxygen masks on correctly.
When they finally did land, Baur said it wasn't a great landing - but she was thankful they landed. The pilot spoke to the passengers. Baur said she owes that woman her life. " She was so calm and I thanked her and I said, ' thank you so much.' And she just kind of said, 'That was my job. My job was to get us here safely,' " said Baur.
After the flight Bauer's sister and brother-in-law drove from Manhattan to Philadelphia so she wouldn't have to be alone in her hotel room. In a Facebook post Baur wrote in part, "Squeeze your spouse y’all. I have never been in a situation that I thought (without a doubt) I was going to lose my life... and trying to convey how much I love my sweet Chad over text, was heart wrenching. Thanking God for my breath and this beautiful life I live. I am safe."
Baur was set to board her flight to return home to her husband Wednesday afternoon.