It’s an emergency all commercial airline pilots train for, but thankfully, rarely get to put into practice. But when a Southwest Airlines plane’s engine blew up in mid-air killing a passenger on April 17, 2018, pilot Tammie Jo Shults was suddenly forced to put her skills to the test.
The 56-year-old former U.S. Navy pilot is being praised as a hero after safely landing the plane, and an audio recording between her and air traffic control shows just how amazing she was during the crisis.
Shults, a former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy, immediately radioed air traffic control as her plane descended with 149 passengers on board the Boeing 737-700.
That audio recording has now been released and it reveals just how calm, cool and collected she is. When the air traffic controller ask for clarification as to what happens Shults relates: “Yes sir, we’re single engine, descending, have a fire, number one.”
“Is your airplane physically on fire?” asked a man with Philadelphia’s arrival sector.
“No it’s not on fire but part of it’s missing,” she calmly replies. “They said there’s a hole and someone went out.”
Shults managed to safely land the plane and is being hailed as a hero by passengers and the public alike.
“She has nerves of steel,” passenger Alfred Tumlinson told the Associated Press. “That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card — I’m going to tell you that — with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”
Passengers commend Shults for her heroic actions but also her compassion, after it was revealed that she gave hugs and spoke to every passenger after they landed.
“The pilot came back to speak to each of us personally,” Diana McBride Self wrote on Facebook with a photo of Shults. “This is a true American Hero. A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.”
Shults got the “flying bug” growing up near an air base and was determined to fly from a young age. “Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she said in the book Military Fly Moms. Shults didn’t know it then, but she would become a trailblazer.
She recalled going to a lecture on aviation during high school and the retired colonel teaching the class asked her if she was lost, because she was the only girl in the class. She told him she was interested in flying. She wrote, “He allowed me to stay but assured me there were no professional women pilots.”
She proved him wrong, becoming one of the first women to fly the F/A-18 Hornet after joining the U.S. Navy to become a fighter pilot. She served in the Navy for 10 years before flying for commercial airlines, a transition that every single passenger on Southwest Flight 1380 is grateful for.
You can listen to a clip of that audio in the video below.
And here is a longer version.