A Duty to Act at 30,000 Feet

Andrew King Needum was raised in the small rural town of Celina, Texas, where he grew up working on his grandfather’s farm spending many years tending to the cattle and helping manage crops.

Needum went to college at Tarleton State University where he received a Bachelor of Science in agriculture service and development in 2006. In 2007, he married his wife, Stephanie, and began serving on the Weston Volunteer Fire Department, in Weston, TX.

After a year as a volunteer firefighter, Needum knew that the fire service was where he needed to be. He enrolled in the Collin College Fire Academy and graduated as an EMT with a Structural Fire Fighter certification in 2010.

Over the next few years, he and Stephanie became proud parents of their two children, Colten and Ellie.

In 2014, he began his career as a paid firefighter for the Rowlett Fire Department, and, in 2017, came back to his hometown and joined the Celina Fire Department.

Needum completed his paramedic education in March 2018, just one month before the incident on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380. He hadn’t yet managed a severe trauma case as solo paramedic, but that didn’t stop Needum from springing into action Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother and Wells Fargo executive, was pulled halfway out of an airplane window after it was hit by shrapnel from a failed engine while in flight.

Along with fellow passenger, Tim McGinty, Needum pulled the woman back into the cabin. Moments later, Needum and Peggy Phillips, a retired nurse, began resuscitation efforts, while Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor landed the plane safely.

Shults, a former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy, was responsible for the 149 people onboard. She and Ellisor not only did a masterful job landing the plane, but her calm, crisp, clear and professional radio transmissions are a good example for all emergency responders to listen to and emulate in the future.

Needum, described on Good Morning America by Peggy Phillips as “… just the most courageous young man!” has been referred to as a hero for his actions that day. He shrugs off the title, insisting that God placed him on that plane for a reason, and he was just doing what he’s always been called to do … to serve others.

Read Andrew Needum’s story in his own words, as well as an article about the inspiring rescuer reunion that occurred after the incident, both written exclusively for JEMS.