Jennifer Riordan was flying home to her husband and kids. She never made it back.

Jennifer Riordan had just boarded a Southwest Airlines flight at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The 43-year-old bank executive had been in the city on business and was returning home to her husband, Michael, and two children.

Dallas – where the plane was bound – wouldn’t have been her final destination. She still had to make it Albuquerque, New Mexico, and she was expecting a long day ahead of her as the plane took off about 10.30am on Tuesday.

However, just 20 minutes into the flight something completely unexpected and ultimately tragic happened – the plane’s engine exploded. The explosion sent shrapnel flying through the air, smashing through the window by the seat Jennifer was sitting in, and hitting her.

In one terrifying moment, the pressure sucked the Wells Fargo employee headfirst out of the window. Witnesses said she hit her head on the way.

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Passangers took photos of the broken window. Image: Marty Martinez/Facebook

"The top half of her torso was out the window," a fellow passenger, Max Kraidelman, later told the New York Times. "There was a lot of blood..."

Instinctually, passengers Tim McGinty and Andrew Needum rushed to pull Jennifer back into the plane. Meanwhile, the plane was descending rapidly as the cabin room depressurised and oxygen masks came down. In just five minutes the pilot dropped the plane from 9100 metres (30,000 feet) to 3048m (10,000ft) to ensure passengers could breathe properly.

Inside the plane, Andrew Needum and retired nurse Peggy Phillips attempted to revive the unconscious woman, administering CPR. Witnesses say that she went into cardiac arrest.

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Peggy later explained to ABC News in the US the extent of the injuries she was dealing with.

"If you can possibly imagine going through the window of an airplane at about 600mph (965km/h), and hitting either the fuselage or the wing with your body, with your face...I can probably tell you that there was significant trauma to the body."

Watch as Peggy gives her firsthand account of trying to save Jennifer. Post continues.

Video via ABC News

Peggy, with help from other passengers and crew members, continued to administer CPR for 20 minutes as the plane rerouted to make an emergency landing at Philidelphia's airport. A defibrillator was even used as the plane landed, witnesses said.

When pilot Tammie Jo Shults landed the plane of 149 passengers, Jennifer was taken to hospital with critical injuries, where she later died. Seven other people were treated for minor injuries, but hers was the only death.

Jennifer's family released a statement speaking of their loss and requesting privacy as they grieve.

"Jennifer Riordan has passed away as a result of previously reported events on Southwest Airlines flight #1380," it read.

"Jennifer’s vibrancy, passion and love infused our community and reached across our country.

"Her impact on everything and everyone she touched can never be fully measured. But foremost, she is the bedrock of our family.

"She and Mike wrote a love story unlike any other. Her beauty and love is evident through her children [Josh and Avery].”

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The plane's destroyed engine. Image: Marty Martinez/Facebook

Jennifer had worked at Wells Fargo as vice president of community relations for almost 10 years, according to her LinkedIn account.

It's clear from a statement made by the mayor of Albuquerque, Tim Keller, that she was active within her community.

"Today, Albuquerque lost a thoughtful leader who has long been part of the fabric of our community," a statement he shared on Twitter read.

"We are asking that everyone respect the privacy of the family at this time. This is a tremendous and tragic loss for Jennifer’s family and many others throughout our city.

"Her leadership and philanthropic efforts made this a better place every day and she will be terribly missed. We are holding Jennifer and her family in our thoughts and prayers."

A description of Jennifer on a GoFundMe page set up by a family friend on behalf of the family matches these sentiments.

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Jennifer Riordan. Image: Twitter

"She was the team mum and everyone's friend," the page states.

"I don’t think she ever met anybody who did not become more than just a friend. Her laugh was contagious and everyone wanted to be a part of her energy.

"You could not be unhappy around Jen. She made everybody’s life a little better. Losing Jen is a huge loss for this world."

In response to the incident, Southwest Airlines released a video message from their chief executive, Gary Kelly, who shared his condolences to the family and pledged to "do all that we can to support them during this difficult time".

The airline has also said it will inspect all engines similar to the one that exploded over the next month. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a fan blade in the engine snapped off, causing the explosion.

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