When Michael Riordan received a call from a Philadelphia hospital chaplain concerning his wife, Jennifer Riordan, he thought they had the wrong number. When asked if he was married to Jennifer Riordan, Michael replied, “well, my wife was flying to Chicago today so you must be looking for somebody else,” he told CBS News in an interview. The doctor called Michael back a few moments later to deliver the tragic news: his wife had died on her flight.
Jennifer Riordan, an executive at Wells Fargo, was the sole victim of the Southwest flight in which an engine was blown, sending debris through the windows of the plane. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Riordan’s death was the first one to occur during a United States airline accident since 2009. Riordan was killed when her window was shattered by engine shrapnel and she was partially sucked outside, despite wearing her seatbelt. Several passengers managed to pull her back into the plane, but it was too late to save her. On April 18th, a Philadelphia coroner said Riordan had died from “blunt impact trauma of head, neck, and torso in a manner that was determined to be an accident,” according to CBS News.
Before the doctor at the Philadelphia Hospital called Michael Riordan to tell him Jennifer had died, Michael quickly conducted an internet search to find out what had happened. The news of the Southwest flight had already been shared. “I saw one passenger brought to the hospital, like, ‘OK, but the whole plane didn’t crash,’” Michael told ABC in an interview, “I was like, ‘She can’t be injured that bad she’s just in a hospital, but I can get out there and I can hold her hand and love on her.’” Once the doctor called Michael and confirmed the worst, he told CBS: “I immediately switched to the second and third phone calls that I had to make — the worst ones of my life — to her father and her mother.”
Michael and Jennifer had two children together, and Michael struggled with how he was going to tell them that their mother had died. “I immediately thought of the kids and how do you tell your kids their mom was gone,” he told ABC. Michael drove to the school his children attended and brought them to a chapel. He said, “I just held their little hands and took a knee and said, ‘Mommy’s not going to come home guys.’” Michael told CBS that he wants his and Jennifer’s children to remember her as “Kind, loving, caring and sharing.” He added, “When I have those four little eyes look at me thinking how we’re going to get through, that’s going to make me a better dad and a better husband and a better person.”
Michael Riordan met Jennifer at a shopping mall when they were only 17 and 15, respectively. When asked by CBS what he would say to Jennifer now, Michael responded “I love you. I have no idea how I can do this without her but because of her, I know I can. It’s the love affair that will never end and it won’t. No one can take her from my heart and no one can take her from our family.” In a separate interview with Today on NBC, Michael said “I have not been angry yet. I’m sure it’s coming. I’m keeping my love for her in my heart and I’m staying strong for my children.” He added that he takes solace in the last conversation he and Jennifer had. “She called just to say, ‘I’m going to the airport,’” Michael said, “and we said, ‘love you, safe travels.’”
Other passengers on the Southwest flight recalled the experience of trying to save Jennifer’s life. Hollie Mackey, another passenger seated in the same row as Jennifer, attempted to pull her back into the plane after the window blew out. Once Jennifer was back inside the plane, a retired nurse named Peggy Phillips attempted CPR for almost 20 minutes until the plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia. After reuniting with her family, Mackey told People that she recounted the emotional experience to her husband, saying: “Both of us expected to be going home to our families and sleeping in our own beds that night.” She continued, saying: “I kept telling my husband, somebody else’s family doesn’t get to have this tonight, and it isn’t fair.” Michael Riordan told ABC News that he wanted to contact the people who tried to save Jennifer, saying: “I received the names of the people who were sitting next to her. At some point, I really need to reach out to them. As a family, we’re just thankful for them being there with her.”
A memorial service was held on April 22nd, at the University of New Mexico, where Jennifer had attended. Almost 1,000 people attended the service. Michael Riordan addressed the crowd, saying “Why’s everybody so quiet? This is a celebration.” He continued, saying “Jennifer was 10 minutes late to our wedding, so I’m paying her back a little bit.” Michael, joined by his and Jennifer’s children on stage, asked the audience to stand if they had ever had a positive experience with Jennifer, such as receiving a supportive note or working to improve the city. Nearly everyone in attendance stood. The Riordan family released a statement saying: “We appreciate the outpouring of support from the community. It truly touches our hearts. We know there are many in the community who want to celebrate Jennifer.”
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