This is the story about a “family” I never knew that I had until a tragic and traumatic event brought us together. Following the incident that occurred on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, a cohesive bond was formed among all of us directly involved.
The Immediate Aftermath
Immediately following our offloading of the plane, several buses were lined up to transport us to the Philadelphia airport terminals from the tarmac. It just so happened that my family was on the same bus as Peggy Phillips, the nurse who assisted me in the performance of CPR on Jennifer Riordan.
My parents and Peggy began to converse about their reasons for being in New York, and at some point during their conversation they began talking about Peggy’s daughters role in the Broadway musical Hello Dolly. I would see Peggy periodically throughout the day, but I unfortunately never took the time to get her full story.
Tim McGinty and I met up again in the unused terminal where we were taken after the incident. We ended up being able to take a few photos with one another and ended up exchanging phone numbers. Again, we didn’t have the opportunity to get the full perspective of what we had just experienced together.
I remember telling Tim to stay strong and know that this experience was going to affect us in the days or weeks to come. Little did I know at that moment that the words coming out of my mouth would be so meaningful and true not only to Tim, but to me as well.
Talking About Trauma
About a week went by. Tim and I would talk over the phone a few times about the different networks trying to reach out to us in attempts to cover the story. Again, we resisted diving into the details of our experience on that flight, in fear of striking an emotional nerve, so we attempted to avoid the topic of our involvement on the flight.
It wouldn’t be until our time together at the White House in Washington, D.C., that we would begin the process of piecing all the parts together.
We were all sitting down at the hotel café for brunch prior to heading over to the White House to meet with President Trump. The group included Tim and Kristin McGinty, Peggy and Grayson Phillips, Stephanie and myself. We found ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats talking about our experience and taking bits and pieces from one another. We were all attempting to fill in the gaps in our own personal stories. The conversation we had at that table would have been media gold, as we began to recall the events that had occurred on that plane.
Later that day, at the White House security screening, we would finally meet up with the crew from Flight 1380: Tammy Jo Shults, Darren Ellisor, Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Ward, and Kathy Sandoval, along with their respective spouses and guests.
Meeting President Trump in the Oval Office was a phenomenal experience and one that I’ll never forget. Not only were we honored by meeting the President of the United States, but we also received a personal tour of the White House.
As we walked around the White House with the tour guide, we took photos together and continued to learn more about each other personally. We knew that we needed to respect the tour guide’s time as well as the time in the White House, but we couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn more about each other’s perspective of the flight.
We left the White House grounds ultimately not knowing when, or if, we would ever see each other again. Stephanie and I were fortunate enough to be staying another night as were the McGintys.
We took the time that evening and enjoyed each other’s company over dinner. As we settled in for the evening, Stephanie and I looked at each other and almost simultaneously said how much we needed that evening for healing purposes.
Bonds Solidify & Family Grows
A month later, we received a letter in the mail from Kristin McGinty, Tim’s wife, inviting us to attend a surprise birthday party she was planning for Tim. She told us she had invited the crew members from the flight as well. Stephanie and I immediately cleared our schedules, and we both made it a priority to be in attendance.
As we drove into Hillsboro, Texas, Kristin called and asked us to pick up Southwest Captain Tammy Joe Shults and her husband, Dean, at the municipal airport. They arrived at their scheduled time and we immediately picked up exactly where we had left off when we’d left the White House.
There was not a dull moment during our time together. We continued to talk as if we’d known each other for years. Later that evening we would reunite with Rachel, Peggy, Darren, and the McGintys.
Tim arrived at the party caught by complete surprise. He hugged everyone, and the conversations picked back up again.
Finally, I was able to have the moment that I’d ultimately been waiting for. I finally had the pleasure of talking with Rachel Fernheimer, the flight attendant who I indirectly interacted with during the incident.
I had great anticipation for this exact moment, because I knew she was involved, but never truly knew to what extent.
As the event replayed over and over in my mind, I could recall laying over the top of someone as I reached for Jennifer Riordan but, for the life of me, I didn’t know who it was. Through conversation, Rachel told me that it was her, and for some reason it was a relief to know the answer to a question that was truly plaguing me.
Just as I had questions, Rachel did as well. She began to explain how she was having difficulties not knowing the answer to a question I had asked once we secured Jennifer inside the cabin. I asked for an “OPA” (oropharyngeal airway) and a “BVM” (bag-valve mask), but she couldn’t hear me because of the noise.
She then began to tell in her own words how loud the cabin was, and how she couldn’t hear anything that I was saying.
A Giant Step Toward Healing
The night continued with lots of photos being taken, and all of us ultimately carrying on like we might at any other family reunion. But this was so much more than a birthday celebration or a family reunion, it was a giant step forward in the healing process, with all the key responders present together and experiencing the same setbacks and difficulties adjusting to our new lives post April 17, 2018.