Southwest pilot’s ‘nerves of steel’ credited for safe landing


Mrs ShultsImage copyright
Facebook/MidAmerica Nazarene

Image caption

Mrs Shults (left) flew fighter jets in the US Navy

A pilot who safely landed a Southwest Airlines passenger plane after a jet engine ripped apart mid-air is being praised as a hero by passengers.

Tammie Jo Shults landed Flight 1380 at a Philadelphia airport after the incident on Tuesday, according to passengers. One woman was killed.

She safely landed the jet after an engine blew, shattered a window and nearly sucked a woman out of the plane.

Mrs Shults served in the US Navy for 10 years and flew fighter jets.

A cause has yet to be determined, but officials said an early review of the incident found evidence of metal fatigue where a fan blade had broken off, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The passenger who died was Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old executive for Wells Fargo bank and mother-of-two from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Seven others were slightly injured.

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Media captionAir traffic control: “I’m sorry, you said there is a hole?”

Those aboard the Dallas-bound flight carrying 149 people lauded Mrs Shults as an “American Hero” who prevented a much larger tragedy.

Who is the pilot?

Mrs Shults has not been officially named by Southwest Airlines, but passengers who were on the flight have identified her as the pilot. Her husband has also confirmed to the Associated Press that she was at the controls of the plane.

She was among the first cohort of female fighter pilots to transition to tactical aircraft, the US Navy has confirmed.

The New Mexico native graduated university with degrees in biology and agribusiness before joining the US Navy.

According to the Navy, she left active service in 1993 after achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.

According to a relative, her husband is also a pilot for Southwest.

On social media, some compared the mother-of-two with Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who glided a US Airways plane into New York’s Hudson River in 2009 in what became known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.

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Media captionVideo shows exploded plane engine

What are passengers saying?

Passenger Alfred Tumlinson of Corpus Christi, Texas praised the pilot for her “nerves of steel”.

“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,” he told the Associated Press.

Diana McBride Self, who was also on the flight, posted a photo on Facebook of Mrs Shults as she met passengers after the plane was back on the ground.

“Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally. This is a true American Hero,” she wrote.

“A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation.”

The twin-engine Boeing 737 had left New York when shrapnel pierced the passenger compartment causing the plane to lose pressure and rapidly drop.

With oxygen masks over their mouths, passengers screamed and braced for impact.

“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” the pilot radioed to the air traffic control tower.

“We have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she said, adding that she is carrying injured passengers.

“Injured passengers, okay, and is your airplane physically on fire?” asks a male voice in the tower, according to a recording released by officials.

“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Mrs Shults said.

“They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out,” she calmly says.

Image copyright
United Way of Central New Mexico

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Jennifer Riordan, who was killed, was a mother-of-two and bank vice-president

What have investigators said?

The Chairman of the NTSB said early reports indicate that one of the engine’s 24 fan blades broke off due to metal fatigue while spinning at high speed.

“This fan blade was broken right at the hub. There is evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated,” Robert Sumwalt told reporters on Wednesday.

A casing on the engine is meant to contain any parts that come loose, but due to the speed, the metal was able to penetrate the shell, he added.

A piece was discovered about 60 miles (97km) northwest of Philadelphia on Tuesday, according to Mr Sumwalt.

Meanwhile, other airlines have been urged to inspect the engines of their Boeing 737 planes.

The engine was developed by French-US joint venture CFM International. French officials have said they are travelling to the US to aid in the investigation.

CFM say more than 8,000 of those engines are currently in use for Boeing 737 planes.

More on US air crashes:

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Media captionBird v plane: The battle for airspace

The mystery of the homesick mechanic who stole a plane

WATCH: US emergency landing after bird strike


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