Less than a half hour after takeoff, Matt Tranchin resigned himself to die. There was an explosion on the left side of the 737. Then there was the plunge, a drop that seemed to never stop. The oxygen masks fell in front of the passengers as flight attendants hurried to the 14th row. One of them began to cry and scream for help; a passenger’s torso had been sucked out of the plane.
Matt didn’t know all this at the time. He figured there was some sort of hole in the plane, and started thinking about how to get away from it. But the cabin was full, and then came the reaction from the flight attendant. He realized how serious this was, and that he was powerlessly stuck in his seat. He pulled out his phone and began texting his final goodbyes to his wife, his unborn child, and his parents. He was certain the plane would crash.
We now know what happened on Southwest 1380. A fan blade in one of the engines broke off due to metal fatigue. It tore through the engine and sent shrapnel into the wing before shattering one of the cabin windows. The plane, which was ascending at 32,500 feet when the explosion occurred, plunged 8,000 feet in two minutes. Over the next five minutes, it sank another 13,000 feet. It would land in Philadelphia 10 minutes later, guided by the supreme calm of pilot Tammie Jo Shults. We’ll surely learn more in the days and weeks to come—last night, the AP reported that Southwest had asked for more time to inspect its engine fan blades.
Matt is part of the D Magazine family. He is the head of a super PAC known as the Coalition of a New Dallas, which was started by D owner Wick Allison and operates out of the office. (The magazine and the PAC are separate operations.) Matt was headed to New York to learn best practices from organizers with the national March for Our Lives folks; he wanted to bring back some pointers for the young activists he’s been helping here.
After the landing, Matt called D editor Tim Rogers. He was almost ecstatic. He’d just cheated death. He told Tim about watching World War Z and remembering how Brad Pitt blew a hole in the fuselage of the plane to kill a bunch of zombies and survived by avoiding the blast site. He took some photos of the plane and made a quip about Final Destination. He gave a whole bunch of interviews, recounting the incident. He wound up on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, alongside friend Marty Martinez, another D compatriot who sometimes helps us with social media. He took some criticism from the mob of internet bums who sniff out things to criticize and troll; Matt was in shock. Shame on anyone who would judge him in that state.
The Matt you hear in the interview below is a man who is reckoning with what he experienced. The jubilance of cheating death is gone. Now comes figuring out how to live with the fact that he did. There were 149 people aboard that plane, including Jennifer Riordan, the 43-year-old passenger who was fatally wounded. The news reports got their tick-tock of what happened; listen to Matt for the weight of what happens now.