Many nationwide were shocked Tuesday by news that a bizarre midair accident aboard a Southwest Airlines plane led to the death of a female passenger when an engine exploded, sending shrapnel through a nearby window.
Then came word that stunned New Mexico’s business and nonprofit communities: The victim was well-known Albuquerque banking executive Jennifer Riordan, 43.
Shock waves reverberated throughout the state, and tributes quickly came in from politicians, business leaders and others she had touched, touting her as “an amazing community leader, team member, wife and mother.”
In early afternoon, the news began to spread when an email was sent to parents at Annunciation Catholic School announcing that Riordan, whose two children attend the school, was killed when she “was in route from New York when her plane experience (sic) trouble.”
Assistant principal Amy McCarty wrote: “At this point, the family needs all the prayers we can offer.”
The Associated Press reported that the engine blew up at around 32,000 feet, causing shrapnel to break a window where Riordan was sitting. A witness said she was partially drawn out of the plane, but passengers were able to pull her back in. Other witnesses said they heard a loud boom, followed by the oxygen masks dropping from the ceiling of the cabin.
The plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia before noon on Tuesday. Seven other passengers suffered minor injuries, and Riordan died at the hospital. The National Transportation Safety Board has sent a team of investigators to Philadelphia.
Pilot Tammie Jo Shults, a New Mexico native and former Navy pilot, was hailed by passengers for her cool demeanor during the ordeal. Shults walked down the aisle and checked on passengers after the plane landed.
The death was the first involving a U.S. airline since 2009.
Riordan had been the vice president of community relations for Wells Fargo bank in New Mexico since 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Wells Fargo confirmed that Riordan had been on a business trip.
“The Wells Fargo family is saddened to learn of the death of our friend and colleague Jennifer Riordan – a Community Relations leader in Albuquerque, New Mexico,” a statement from the company said. “She was a well-known leader who was loved and respected. We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. Out of respect for the family and their privacy, we’ve nothing more to share at this time.”
She is the wife of former City of Albuquerque Chief Operations Officer Michael Riordan. They’ve been married for more than 20 years.
“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,” the Riordan family said in a statement. “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 … In her memory – please remember to always be kind, loving, caring, and sharing.”
The family also requested privacy as they grieve.
Riordan graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in communications in 1999.
She worked at UNM Hospital as the media relations manager from 2002 to 2005 and as New Mexico Citigroup’s vice president of community and public relations from 2005 to 2008 before moving to Wells Fargo.
“Jennifer was an amazing community leader, team member, wife and mother. Her passion for our community, our students and our future was unwavering,” Dr. Paul Roth, chancellor for the UNM Health Sciences Center, said in a statement. “We are committed to carrying on her work to ensure quality education and career opportunities to New Mexico’s youth.”
Riordan was presented the Bill Daniels Award for Ethical Young Leadership in 2015 by the Samaritan Counseling Ethics in Business Awards.
“As a parent, I’ve said to my kids, ‘Be kind, loving, caring and sharing, and all good things will come to you,'” Riordan said in a Journal report about the award. “Integrity embodies the spirit of those four things, as well as high morals. It’s about knowing the difference between right and wrong, and choosing to do what’s right, even when it’s very difficult to do what’s right.”
Statements from Gov. Susana Martinez, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, Attorney General Hector Balderas and others came flooding in after the news of her death broke on Tuesday.
Riordan oversaw Wells Fargo’s corporate giving program within the state and took on roles in several nonprofits and volunteer positions, including on the “Vision Council” of Mission: Graduate, a United Way program that seeks to increase the number of New Mexicans who earn a college degree or certificate.
“I will always remember her being such an energy and force whenever she showed up in a room,” said Ed Rivera, president and CEO of United Way of Central New Mexico. “She’ll be very much missed by so many nonprofits.”
Mayor Keller’s statement said Riordan had made the city “a better place every day.”
“We are holding Jennifer and her family in our thoughts and prayers,” he said.
The Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce held a moment of silence for Riordan on Tuesday evening during a reception for new UNM President Garnett Stokes at Hotel Parq Central.
“The community has lost a wonderful and important leader,” said Terri Cole, Chamber President and CEO.
Riordan brought optimism and hope to everything she worked on, Cole said.
According to Riordan’s biography on the Mission: Graduate website, Riordan is the mother of a 12-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
“She was amazing in every possible way – as a mother, wife, friend, businesswoman,” said Leean Kravitz, a friend of Riordan’s. “She was one of the best humans I’ve ever known. It is truly devastating, and my heart is breaking for her family and all of her many friends.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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