Flight attendants were in the aisle asking for drink orders on Southwest flight 1380 Tuesday when Andrew Needum heard a "loud pop."
Suddenly, oxygen masks fell down from the ceiling. He put his on, and then he turned to his father and his son next to him in Row 8, and his wife, mother and daughter across the aisle to help them put on their masks.
That's when the firefighter from Celina, Texas, heard a commotion in the back of the plane. After getting his wife's silent approval, he said, he hustled to the back to help.
"I'm trained for emergency situations and that's just exactly what it was, and I felt moved to act as well as other people on that plane," Needum said at a news conference Thursday.
"God created a servant heart in me, and I felt a calling to get up and do something," he added.
The "pop" he heard was likely the window shattering in Row 14 after an engine malfunction shot pieces of metal shrapnel into the plane.
The passenger sitting there, Jennifer Riordan, was sucked into the hole. Several passengers unsuccessfully tried to pull the woman away from the window and back into the plane, and others stuffed clothes and jackets in an attempt to plug the hole, passenger Marty Martinez said.
Needum was one of the passengers who were finally able to pull Riordan back into the plane. Other passengers performed CPR on her as the flight made an emergency landing in Philadelphia Tuesday.
But Riordan, a 43-year-old executive at Wells Fargo in Albuquerque, New Mexico, died from blunt impact trauma of the head, neck and torso, a spokesman for the Philadephia Department of Public Health said.
With his parents and wife next to him on Thursday, Needum spoke in a quiet voice to reporters, but declined to provide further detail on what happened in the back of the plane out of respect for Riordan's family.
"There was a family that lost a loved one," Needum said. "I feel for her family. I feel for her two kids, her husband, the community that she lived in. I can't imagine what they're going through, but I'm thankful that my family is here."
NTSB investigating engine failure
As the plane ascended past 32,000 feet about 20 minutes into the flight from New York to Dallas, the left engine failed and parts of it flew off, shattering the window in Row 14.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating why the engine malfunctioned.
Needum said he was one of many passengers aboard the flight who helped out in some way.
"Everybody acted and everybody stood strong," he said.
Needum and his family had been in New York on vacation to visit relatives and to celebrate his parents' 39th wedding anniversary, he said. Needum has been a paid firefighter for four years.
"I'm no different than any other firefighter in this country. For some reason, whatever reason that is, it was me that day," he said.
Celina Fire Chief Mark Metdker offered high praise for Needum.
"I've always said, you give me a good person, I can make a good firefighter out of him. I don't know of anybody that's any better person than Andrew Needum," he said. "I wish I had 10 more just like him."