An airplane mechanic was killed Monday morning after he was sucked into a jet's engine while passengers were boarding from the tarmac, officials said.

"A mechanic walked in front of the engine and was pulled into the engine," National Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Lauren Peduzzi said.

She said she didn't know if any passengers saw the accident as they boarded Continental Airlines flight 1515 to Houston. A Federal Aviation Administration spokesman said the worker was sucked into the right engine of the 737-500.

The mechanic's identity wasn't released, but Continental identified the victim as an employee of one of Continental's suppliers. Continental released few other details about what it called a "ground incident" at El Paso International Airport.

"My fellow co-workers and I extend our heartfelt sympathies to the family and friends of the mechanic involved in this tragic event," Larry Kellner, Continental chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

There were 114 passengers and five crew members boarding the plane.

Peduzzi said there had been an earlier problem with the Number 2 engine, so the engine's metal covering was open at the time of the accident.

The NTSB was investigating.