‘The pilot came on and told us that we had lost an engine’
Shortly after hearing a “horrific boom,” Kimberly Zetsch recounted how the Southwest airplane they were on Monday began shaking, dipped to the left and then started descending.
“My first thoughts were, after my years of flying, was this has never happened before,” said the Luling resident who has flown without incident since she was 13 years old.
This fear setting in was incredible to Zetsch, particularly since she considered herself the veteran flyer between her and fiance’, David Harrison, also of Luling, who was sitting next to her.
Just moments earlier, she had been holding Harrison’s clammy hand and cracking jokes to distract him from his usual discomfort over flying. He prefers to drive to his destinations.
Now, only 30 minutes into Flight 3472, they heard an explosion and terror struck.
Within eight minutes, the plane’s altitude dropped from 30,000 feet to 10,000 feet.
Harrison leaned over, kissed Zetsch’s hand and said, “I love you, babe.”
All she could think was, “This can’t be happening.” Zetsch’s heart started pounding and then the oxygen masks fell.
“We’re being instructed to start preparing for an emergency … all those things they tell you at the beginning of the flight that you didn’t listen to because you’re waiting to put your drink order in,” she said.
Passengers put on their oxygen masks and were reminded of exit door locations in case the plane crashed, she said. Zetsch and Harrison were with two other couples, including Bob and Vickie Fisher of Montz.
“So we all put our masks on and the pilot came on and told us that we had lost an engine, and that we were headed back to New Orleans,” Zetsch said. “All I could see was a body of water, and I thought about not being a good swimmer and how could I get out of this. Then, I quickly realized I would be gone on impact. A whole new reality set in and it would be death. I thought, ‘This is how I’m going out.'”
Zetsch started praying as hard as she ever prayed in her life. She pleaded to God for their lives and another chance to see their children.
“At that point, I couldn’t take my eyes off the window,” she said.
Then the pilot announced they were instead going to Pensacola and would land in a few minutes.
“It seemed like hours,” she said. “I just couldn’t figure out what took so long about reaching the ground.”That’s when her panic attack struck.
“You have to breathe,” Harrison told her as she shook uncontrollably.
A nurse seated near them saw Zetsch in full panic mode and held her hand as she reassured her, adding, “I need you to breathe.”
Despite her condition, she recalled the pilot announcing they would land in two to three minutes. Harrison also shut the plane window when he realized Zetsch’s eyes were fixed on it.
“I was bracing for impact,” Zetsch said. “If this is God’s will, I want to know when I’m about to be gone.”She leaned over and peaked out the passenger’s window in front of her and saw them getting closer and closer to the Pensacola ground.
“It was probably one of the better landings I’ve ever had,” Zetsch said of their 9:40 a.m. landing in Pensacola. “We touched land and a wave of emotion came across me, and I lost it again. I was so thankful that God answered my prayers.”
When the plane came to a stop, the pilot approached the passengers in the cabin and asked if everyone was okay and if anything came through the plane, she said. They were too relieved to really notice the question, instead they applauded the pilots and stewardesses.
As they left the plane, Zetsch said that’s when they understood what the pilot was talking about.
There was a hole in its side where shrapnel from the portion of the engine that apparently fell off flew into the plane.
Later, they also learned the pilot had taken the plane down slowly to avoid losing oxygen in the aircraft in case the cabin had been punctured.
“We all were kind of in shock, falling apart … immediately getting on phones calling our loved ones,” she said in the hanger. “My No. 1 thought is giving thanks to God for answering my 10,000 prayers that morning.”
While Southwest tried to line up a bus to bring them to Orlando, Zetsch called her mother. Then the airline announced it had instead lined up another plane to take them there, but nearly 60 passengers stood up and refused the ride. She and Harrison rented a vehicle and instead drove to Orlando.
Southwest Airlines has announced the National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident.
On the way, their cell phones “blew up” with calls from media including CNN and ABC wanting interviews.
Although she’s not doing it anytime soon, Zetsch has vowed to fly again.
What has come much sooner is a deep realization about her experience.
“My first thought that comes to mind is ‘I need to step up my game, evaluate some things in life and start doing more good deeds for others.’ I wasn’t quite satisfied with going out like that so I need to push some personal things aside and start helping others where I can.”
She added, “I apologized in my prayers for not doing more. I’ve been thanking God since we landed.”