Passengers aboard the tumultuous Southwest Airlines flight — during which one passenger was killed after nearly being ripped from the plane — are crediting pilot Tammie Jo Shults’ quick thinking with saving their lives.
The former Navy fighter pilot safely brought the plane down in Philadelphia after one of its engines exploded shortly after taking off from New York City.
“This is a true American Hero,” passenger Diana McBride Self said in a Facebook post about Shults, adding the pilot went back and personally spoke with passengers after the ordeal. “A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.”
But long before her quick-thinking maneuvers softly landed the damaged Southwest plane, Shults was a pioneer among female fighter pilots and faced resistance to even enlist.
“She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. … I’m extremely proud of her,” college classmate Cindy Foster said to the Kansas City Star on Tuesday of her friend’s military career. “She saved a lot of lives today.”
Shults was calm in exchanges with flight controllers Tuesday moments after an engine blew out, sending shrapnel into the plane and tearing a hole into the cabin.
“No it’s not on fire, but some of it’s missing,” she plainly said to a flight controller when asked about the engine. “They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”
Mother-in-law Virginia Shults told the Washington Post she wasn’t shocked when she heard the pilot’s cool demeanor.
“It was just as if she and I were sitting here talking,” she told the newspaper. “She’s a very calming person.”
Jennifer Riordan, a Wells Fargo executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, died after she was partially pulled out of the fuselage.
“Knowing Tammie Jo, I know her heart is broken for the death of that passenger,” her mother-in-law told the Washington Post.
Shults, raised on a New Mexico ranch, grew up dreaming of being a pilot as she watched planes fly overhead from the nearby Holloman Air Force Base, she recalled in a passage for the 2012 book “Military Fly Moms,” which profiled the careers of female pilots.
When she went to a retired military pilots lecture on career day her senior year of high school, the former colonel asked if she was lost.
“I mustered up the courage to assure him I was not and that I was interested in flying,” she wrote in a passage for the book. “He allowed me to stay but assured me there were no professional women pilots.”
A meeting with a female pilot while she was a junior at MidAmerican Nazarene University inspired her to keep at it.
“My heart jumped. Girls did fly!” she wrote in the book. “I set to work trying to break into the club.”
The Air Force rejected Shults, however — but wanted her brother. Shults toiled for a year until a recruiter processed her Navy application.
She met her husband — Dean Shults, who’s now also a Southwest pilot — during that time, who she described as her “knight in shining airplane.”
While Shults became one of the first women to fly the F/A-18, she recalled being relegated to support roles because female pilots couldn’t fly combat missions, she wrote in the book.
She retired in 1993, and lives with her husband and two children in San Antonio.
MidAmerican Nazarene alumni director Kevin Garber recalled Shults spoke at the school last year.
“She had tenacity to do something that excelled beyond the norm of what women were allowed or expected to do,” Garber told the Kansas City Star. “She pushed the limits and became what she strived for.”
Passengers praised the cool demeanor Shults had Tuesday when she softly landed the Dallas-bound plane in Philadelphia.
“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her,” Alfred Tumlinson told the Associated Press on Monday night. “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.”
© 2018 New York Daily News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.