Southwest Airlines captain Tammie Jo Shults, 56, is being hailed as a hero for her deft and calm handling of an uncontained engine failure that damaged her Boeing 737 and claimed the life of passenger Jennifer Riordan on Tuesday.
The scene inside the plane was chaotic: Less than an hour into its planned trip from NY to Dallas, one of the 737's two engines lost a fan blade and its cowling, sending shrapnel into the plane's wing and fuselage - and smashing a window next to where passenger Jennifer Riordan of New Mexico was sitting.
A woman died and seven others suffered minor injuries in the incident, which happened shortly after the Southwest Airlines jet departed NY bound for Dallas. "They did the job that professional airline pilots are trained to do", National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters.
When news broke of Shults piloting the crippled Southwest airliner, the name immediately jarred the mind of one Beeville resident. The Navy "let me take the test and fill out the application for aviation officer candidate school, but there did not seem to be a demand for women pilots", she said.
The pilot who safely landed a stricken Southwest Airlines flight was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy, and was accustomed to touching down F-18 fighter jets at 150 miles per hour on aircraft carriers.
Shults later speaks to controllers for the Philadelphia airspace, who asked another Southwest flight to maintain a higher speed on its final approach to the runway - so that plane could land before the stricken airliner began its approach behind it. The woman later died of blunt force trauma to her head, neck and torso.
The New Mexico native, who was one of the first female Navy fighter pilots, can be heard in audio transmissions calmly explaining the situation to an air-traffic controller.
Southwest flight 1380 was en route from NY to Dallas.
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"We've got injured passengers", she said.
The way Tammie Jo Shults handled the emergency has been applauded by passengers, but in a joint statement with first officer Daren Ellisor, the captain shrugged off praise for their actions. "That's how she's wired". But by then Shults had already left the active duty Navy.
Passengers identified Shults as the pilot.
"Heck no, she's a strong Christian lady", she said. Shults joined the Navy after graduating from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, in 1983 with a degree in biology and agribusiness.
One passenger on board, Marty Martinez, streamed live on Facebook during the emergency landing, which he was not sure he would survive. "We go through the same training that the guys do, and our hope was the Navy would allow us to fly in combat at some point".
The plane descended precipitously, passenger Kristopher Johnson said, but the pilot "regained control" and informed passengers the flight was headed to Philadelphia.
Passenger Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas, lauded Shults and her crew for their professionalism.
"She had a woman's heart, a lovely smile". "My brother says she's the best pilot he knows".