“As long as you have altitude and ideas, you’re okay. And we had both,” Tammie Jo Shults told ABC News about safely landing a commercial airliner full of passengers after one of its engines blew out last month. Of course, there was more to the story than that. The famously humble pilot talked about the “life-changing experience and revealed why she wasn’t even supposed to have been in the cockpit for that flight and what she and her co-pilot talked about after the engine exploded.
Shults, a former Navy fighter pilot, and her first officer Darren Ellisor, a 44-year-old former Air Force pilot, sat down for in an interview for 20/20, their first public interview about their cockpit heroics. The plane was cruising at about 32,000 feet when one of the engines suddenly exploded, causing a rapid decompression and the plane to begin its own descent.
“My first thoughts were actually, ‘Oh, here we go.’ Just because it seems like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done,” Shults, 56, said. “And we had to use hand signals [and some yelling], because it was loud, and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.”
The co-pilots didn’t even realize what exactly had happened at first. Their initial assessment was that the plane may have suffered a seizure. “The seizure of the aircraft would not cause a rapid decompressions, so we knew that something extraordinary had happened pretty quickly,” said Shults. “We would have turned to Philadelphia anyway and started coming down, we just wouldn’t have tried to get down so quickly. But getting down to richer oxygen was certainly an important task.”
From there on out, the two traded duties handing control of the plane back and forth to one another until Shults guided the jet to a safe touchdown in Philadelphia. “Aviate, communicate, navigate,” Shults remarked.
She also explained why she wasn’t even supposed to be captaining Flight 1380 that day. Her husband, Dean, who is also a pilot for Southwest, traded flights with her so she could make it home in time to attend her son’s track meet.
“Dean, being the amazing husband he is, said, ‘You go to the track meet, I’ll switch and take your trip.’ And so that’s why I was on the trip,” she said, adding, “I’m not trading [flights] with him anymore.”
Watch a highlight of the interview below.
Read the full story at ABC News.