The pilot who coolly landed a Southwest Airlines plane after one of the jet’s engines failed and torpedoed shrapnel through a window midflight has gone against the odds before.
Identified by The Associated Press as Tammie Jo Shults, she wasted no time steering the plane into a rapid descent toward safety when chaos broke out shortly after takeoff from New York — maintaining her composure even as passengers reported from the cabin that a woman had been partially sucked out of a shattered window.
“We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she’s heard calmly telling air traffic controllers in audio transmissions after reporting the aircraft’s engine failure.
“Could you have medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers,” Shults then requests.
A air traffic controller asks her if her plane is on fire, to which Shults calmly replies: “No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing. They said there’s a hole, and — uh — someone went out.”
One passenger was killed, and seven others suffered minor injuries, authorities said. But many say the toll on Dallas-bound Flight 1380, which had 149 people aboard, would have been much higher had it not been for Shults’ quick thinking during her emergency landing in Philadelphia.
“Most of us, when that engine blew, I think we were pretty much going, ‘Well, this just might be it,'” said passenger Peggy Phillips, from Brandon, Texas. “To get us down with no hydraulics and a blown engine and land us safely is nothing short of miraculous to me. She’s a hero, for sure.”
A 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, Shults, 56, received her degree in biology and agribusiness, said Carol Best, a spokeswoman for the university.
Shults then became one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. military, according to the alumni group at her alma mater.
Cindy Foster, a classmate of Shults, told The Kansas City Star that when Shults enlisted in the Navy, she encountered “a lot of resistance” because of her gender. She was passionate about flying and dreamed of being in the Air Force, but went to the Navy instead after the Air Force denied her a chance, Foster added.
“So she knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster told the paper. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance.”