'True American hero'

Former fighter pilot Tammie Jo Shults guided Southwest jet with blown-out engine to safety

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Tammie Jo Shults, who is currently a Southwest Airlines pilot, poses in front of a Navy F/A-18A in this 1992 photo released in Washington, DC, U.S., April 18, 2018. (Thomas P. Milne/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS)

Southwest flight 1380 had just reached a cruising altitude of 32,500 feet for Tuesday’s flight from New York City to Dallas when one of its engines exploded. Tammie Jo Shults, a former fighter pilot for the U.S. Navy — and one of the first women to ever fly fighter jets for the Navy — was captaining the 737 and her grace under extreme pressure is being credited for saving the lives of the 144 passengers and five crew members onboard that nearly doomed flight.

After the explosion, chaos ensued in the cabin. A piece of engine debris smashed into one of the windows, breaking it, and causing the passenger seated next to it to nearly be sucked out. Other passengers worked to keep Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, from being pulled out of the plane, but the blunt force trauma injuries she suffered, a medical examiner said, caused her death later. Through it all, Shults never lost her cool. Recordings of her communications with air traffic control show she was calm and in command as she delivered the devastating news that the damaged aircraft had a full tank of fuel and more than 140 passengers aboard.

“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” Shults told an air traffic controller, as she redirected the plane to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. “We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.” Shults asked for emergency medical staff to meet the plane on the runway, adding, “We’ve got injured passengers.”

“Injured passengers, okay, and is your airplane physically on fire?” an air traffic controller is heard responding on the tape.

“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Shults said, before relaying the grim report she’d received from the cabin. “They said there’s a hole, and, uh, someone went out.”

Shults eventually landed the plane safely, touching down in Philly at 190 mph, according to TRhe Washington Post, with the only death being that of Riordan due to her injuries. The pilot shook the hand of all the passengers as they left the crippled jetliner, and passengers sang her praises for helping them all elude death.

“She has nerves of steel,” Alfred Tumlinson, a 55-year-old passenger on board 1380 said. He credited Shults’s calm demeanor with keeping passengers from complete panic, even as instructed everyone onboard to brace themselves. Tumlinson’s wife, Diana McBride Self, was more succinct, saying Shults is “a true American hero.”

Indeed, social media users compared her feat to that of Chesley Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways pilot who famously landed his crippled jet on the Hudson River in 2009 following a bird strike moments after takeoff.

There’s no doubt Shults is a hero — and she is a humble one. According to Southwest, she won’t be giving any interviews to the press. She released a joint statement on social media with her co-pilot, Darren Ellisor, that downplayed their heroics.

We all feel we were simply doing our jobs,” Shults and Ellisor said in the statement. “Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss.

In 2012, Shultz authored a memoir about her career titled Military Fly Moms, in which she addressed being one of only a few women flying fighter jets in the Navy. “I set to work trying to breaking into that club,” she wrote, according to ABC News. When she met another woman aviator at the time, she wrote, “My heart jumped,” that she wasn’t alone in the male-dominated segment of the military.

For more on Shults and her remarkable career, watch the video below.

Read the full story at The Washington Post

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