BOSTON (CBS) – Family members were in “unbelievable shock” after a woman with Vermont ties died aboard a Southwest Airlines flight when the engine blew and shattered a window next to her seat.

Jennifer Riordan was on Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas when the incident happened. After the plane window shattered next to her, Jennifer was nearly ejected from the plane.

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Jennifer grew up in Vermont before eventually moving to New Mexico. Her sister-in-law Marianne Riordan told WBZ-TV in a phone interview from her Williston, Vt. home how the family felt after learning what happened.

“It was an unbelievable shock for everybody. We almost couldn’t breathe,” she said. “It was devastating. How do you wrap your head around that? She was a young person, full of life in the prime of her life. And you just always think of her energy and her vivaciousness.”

Jennifer Riordan died aboard a Southwest Airlines flight. (CBS)

Marianne said a man in a cowboy hat unselfishly ran to help pull Jennifer back onto the plane. She said that even though Jennifer did not survive, his actions mean a great deal to her family.

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“Everyone on this flight I’m sure had thoughts that they weren’t going to make it,” Marianne said. “This man sitting next to his wife when he could have chosen to just stay with her and embrace her for what could be their last moments together, instead he chose to get up and save Jennifer, someone he didn’t even know.”

NTSB investigators look at a Southwest plane that suffered an engine blow-out that led to the death of a woman mid-air. (CBS)

Marianne said the tragic situation would have been even worse for the family if Jennifer had been ejected from the plane.

“I appreciate the fact that they got Jennifer because at least now the family will be able to have closure when this is all over and put her to rest in peace, rather than having the alternative that I don’t even want to think about,” she said.

Jennifer Riordan died of blunt impact trauma after shrapnel from the engine explosion came crashing into the plane. She suffered injuries to her head, neck and torso.

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Former Navy fighter pilot Tammie Jo Shults and the Southwest flight crew are being praised for their heroic actions in safely landing the plane and preventing further tragedy. There were 149 people on board, including 144 passengers.