Darren Ellisor was the heroic First Officer on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, the flight that made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after an engine came apart, smashing open a window and partially pulling one passenger outside the plan. Captain Tammie Jo Shults, with the help of her co-pilot Ellisor, were able to safely land the plane. One passenger died out of 143 passengers on board the flight.
Shults and Ellisor, 44, made a statement through Southwest Airlines late on Wednesday that was posted to the company’s website and social media accounts. The statement reads: “As Captain and First Officer of the Crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs. Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire Crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss. We joined our Company today in focused work and interviews with investigators. We are not conducting media interviews and we ask that the public and the media respect our focus.”
Here is everything you need to know about Darren Ellisor.
1. Ellisor Is an Air Force Veteran & Has Flown in Europe & the Middle East
Ellisor was an Air Force pilot for more than 10 years before joining Southwest Airlines, reported Chron.com. He left the Air Force in 2007 after flying in Europe and the Middle East. He said that working for Southwest gave him a chance to be home and close to family, not needing to move every three years.
While in the Air Force, his principal missions were in a modified Boeing 707 called the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS.) The AWACS is designed to detect and track aircraft at any altitude, including craft that are typically hidden from ground radar, Chron.com reported. According to Ellisor’s bio on his old website, the E-3 has a mission of Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. The crew capacity for the E-3 is 36.
Ellisor’s first assignment was to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. He received pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, and then flew the E-3 AWACS while stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. After 9/11, he flew the AWACS in Operation Noble Eagle, Chron.com reported. Noble Eagle helped protect Washington D.C. and New York after 9/11.
Before the Iraq War, he was in Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, protecting the Iraqi border. In 2002, he and his family moved to Germany, and he flew the E-3 for NATO. He was an instructor pilot who flew with 13 different NATO countries, according to Chron.com, and also flew peacekeeping missions to Kosovo. Ellisor earned several decorations and awards while serving, including the Lance P. Sijan Leadership Award and the Base Pilot of the Year award in 2004, according to his bio.
He transferred back to Oklahoma in 2005 and was a flight commander and assistant director of operations for training new crew members.
2. He and His Wife, Jennifer, Were Childhood Sweethearts
Ellisor lives in Texas with his wife and children. When he moved back to League City in 2008 after leaving the Air Force, his wife Jennifer (Benson) Ellisor was pregnant with their fourth child, reported Chron.com. Ellisor said that one of his greatest highlights in his life was marrying his long-time best friend Jennifer.
He and Jennifer met on a bus when they were in the 7th grade at Clear Lake Intermediate. After successfully bringing the Southwest plane back to safety, Jennifer said she was “extremely proud” of her husband, ABC 13 reported.
Ellisor and his family are very close. His daughter once tweeted that she hoped she could one day meet a man who loved her as much as her dad loved her mom.
On his birthday, she shared how much he influenced her life:
3. Lance Ellisor Shared a Proud Tweet About His Brother
Ellisor’s brother, Lance Ellisor, tweeted how proud he was of his brother, writing: “I’d just like to point out that the hero pilot Tammie Jo Shults was assisted by her First Officer, and my brother, Darren Ellisor. I’m glad he’s safe, and that almost all the lives were saved. I am sad for the woman who didn’t make it.”
The entire family is very close, and several years ago celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of Darren and Lance’s parents, with the family sharing adorable photos on social media. Their dad wrote on his 50th anniversary: “50 wonderful years with the love of my life. She played hard to get, but I reeled her in.”
They apparently led a great example for Darren and his wife Jennifer, whose children write about the great example their own parents set for them.
4. Darren Ellisor Played Basketball in High School & at the Air Force Academy
In high school, Ellisor played basketball under coach Bill Krueger at Clear Lake High. Krueger is known in the region as a legendary coach who pushes his students hard, reported Chron.com. Ellisor said that Krueger’s training prepared him for the Air Force. Krueger was a tough, no-nonsense coach who had more than 1,000 wins to his name.
Ellisor told Chron.com: “It was like playing for a drill sergeant. Playing for Coach Krueger prepared me for the Air Force Academy. It was great, because he not only taught us basketball, but life lessons. There’s never been a coach like him.”
While in the Air Force Academy, Ellisor continued to play basketball during his freshman year. He was a starter on the junior varsity team. But he never moved on to varsity because playing basketball was difficult on his grades and he needed more time to study.
5. He Said He Loved Working for Southwest Airlines, and Felt It Was Like Being Part of a Big Family
In 2008, Ellisor started a venture called Service Academy Consulting, reported Chron.com. The business was designed to help high school students who were interested in attending one of the service academies. He got the idea because he was already helping high school kids who were interested in applying to military academies, and he decided to make it official. His first two clients were appointed to their dream academies. It’s not clear how long that venture was going, as the associated website mentioned in Chron.com is no longer online and has been down since 2010.
Ellisor was also interested in creating the consulting business because he was not accepted into the Air Force Academy at first himself, according to his bio on his old website. He earned a congressional nomination in high school, but was not appointed to the Air Force Academy. He was given a Falcon Foundation scholarship to attend military prep school for a year at Valley Force Military College in Wayne, Pennsylvania as an Army ROTC cadet. After his first year, he applied again and was accepted with the Air Force Academy class of 1997. He graduated with a bachelor’s of science and a pilot training slot.
Ellisor told Chron.com that he loved flying for Southwest. “It’s like one big family,” he said. “In other places, it’s rare that everyone gets along, but at Southwest we all do. We’re a big team.”
NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt said in a press conference that within seconds of the jet going into a 41.3 degree angle, the pilots were able to straighten the plane. They safely landed at 165 knots, with the usual landing speed being 135 knots, he said. Sumwalt said the pilots were “very calm and assured of what they were doing… My hat is off to them, they behaved in a manner their training called for.”