Tammie Jo Shults is the pilot who bravely flew Southwest Flight 1380 to safety after part of its left engine ripped off, damaging a window and nearly sucking a woman out of the plane. The flight was en route to Dallas Love airport from New York City, and had to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia. Shults, 56, kept her cool during an incredibly intense situation, audio from her conversation with air traffic controllers reveals, while many passengers posted on social media that they were scared these were their last moments. She, with the help of the co-pilot and the rest of the crew, landed the plane safely.
The NTSB reported that there was one fatality out of 143 passengers on board. Some passengers said that someone had a heart attack during the flight, but this was not the fatality reported by the NTSB. The woman who died has been identified by KOAT-TV as Jennifer Riordan, 43, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can read more about her here.
Tammie Jo Shults’ name was not immediately released by Southwest Airlines, but passengers who were on the flight said that she was the pilot, and members of her family have also confirmed it was her. She has declined to comment. Shults’ mother-in-law, Virginia Shults, told The Washington Post she immediately recognized Tammie Jo’s voice when she heard her conversation with the air traffic control tower. “It was just as if she and I were sitting here talking. She’s a very calming person,” Virginia Shults told the newspaper. “Knowing Tammie Jo, I know her heart is broken for the death of that passenger.”
Tammie Jo Shults and her First Officer, Darren Ellisor, 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.” (You can read more about Ellisor in Heavy’s story here.)
Here is everything you need to know about Tammie Jo (Bonnell) Shults:
1. After the Safe Landing, Shults Greeted Each Passenger Personally
Shults was piloting the twin engine Boeing 737 when, at 32,000 feet, shrapnel from the engine smashed a window. She took the plane into a rapid descent, making a safe emergency landing. One person was killed and seven had minor injuries. Thankful passengers immediately began posting on social media after their plane landed safely, declaring that she, the co-pilot, and the rest of the crew were heroes. On Instagram, @abourman wrote the post above. “Our engine that blew out at 38000 ft. A window blew out, a man saved us all as he jumped to cover the window. … The pilot, Tammy Jo was so amazing! She landed us safely in Philly.”
Kristopher Johnson, a passenger on the flight, told CNN: “We were leaving LaGuardia heading to Dallas. We were west of Philadelphia probably about 30,000 feet, and all of a sudden we just heard this loud bang, rattling and then it felt like one of the engines went out. The oxygen masks dropped and flight attendants did a good job. The pilot came on and said we’re diverting to Philadelphia and, you know, there was a serious medical injury. I don’t know much about that, but I was sitting in the front. With a couple passengers. We just got the mask on and as soon as we landed, we were thankful. The pilots did a great job, the crew did a great job. They got us down to Philly, and that’s when I took the photo of the engine, and it appeared that it just shredded the left side engine completely. So we were coming down — we dropped probably from 30,000 feet to 25,000 feet, and then the pilot kind of regained control and brought it down safely to Philadelphia. So we got off the plane and onto buses and we’re trying to head over to the tarmac in Philly… It was pretty scary, but the pilots did a great job.”
You can listen to some of her conversation with air traffic control here:
You can listen to a 30-minute audio of her conversation with the flight tower below, courtesy of LiveATC:
After the flight, she took time to speak to each of the passengers personally, shared Diana McBride Self. Self wrote: “Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally. 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.”
2. Shults Was One of the First Female Fighter Pilots for the U.S. Navy
Shults, a native of New Mexico, graduated in 1983 from MidAmerica Nazarene University after growing up on a ranch. She had degrees in biology and agribusiness, The Kansas City Star reported.
In March 2017, she spoke at a luncheon on campus, where she was honored for her many accomplishments, including being one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy.
An older article about her from 2006 is no longer online, but was shared in a forum about fighter pilots here. The story said that when Shults tried to attend aviation career day at her high school, she wasn’t allowed to go because they didn’t accept girls. So she enrolled at MNU because she was also interested in veterinary medicine, but her passion for flying didn’t go away. “In my junior year I went to an Air Force winging with a friend whose brother was getting his wings,” she said. “And, lo, there was a girl in his class.”
Shults wrote about her Navy career in the book “Military Fly Moms,” by Linda Maloney, in 2012. She said she grew up near Holloman Air Force Base and often watched air shows.
“Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she wrote, adding she knew she “just had to fly.”
Shults applied for the Air Force after she graduated. She wasn’t allowed to test to become a pilot, but the Navy welcomed her. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s. She later became an instructor.
One of her MidAmerica classmates, Cindy Foster, told the Kansas City Star that she was initially met with a lot of resistance when she joined the Navy, because of her gender. “So she knew she had to work harder than everybody else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. I know all women are still fighting today, but I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives today.”
3. She Wasn’t Able to Fly in Combat with the Navy, but She Was an Instructor
She wasn’t allowed to fly in combat while she was in the Navy, according to a 2006 article that is no longer online but can be accessed in a forum about fighter pilots here. But she did become an “aggressor pilot” and an instructor. She resigned her commission in 1993 and joined Southwest Airlines.
According to a Navy magazine story published in 1993, Shults was a member of the Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron (VAQ) 34. The story says that she had flown A-7 and F/A-18 aircraft. She said, “In AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School), if you’re a woman (or different in any way), you’re a high profile; you’re under more scrutiny.” She said that chances for women to gain knowledge in the aviation community were limited. “It would be nice if they would take away the ceilings (women) have over our heads,” she said. “In VAQ-34, gender doesn’t matter, there’s no adgvantage or disadvantage. Which proves my point – if there’s a good mix of gender, it ceases to be an issue.”
Shults’ friend Kim Young told The Kansas City Star that her military training prepared her for this moment. “Those are the kinds of people you want as pilots. That’s what she does, and she’s good at it.”
4. She Has 2 Kids With Her Fellow Pilot Husband, Graduated From MidAmerica Nazarene University & Once Said Being a Pilot Is an ‘Opportunity to Witness for Christ on Almost Every Flight’
Shults lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, with her husband, Dean, according to MidAmerica Nazarene University. According to City-Data, Dean is also a licensed pilot, Medical Class 1, and also served in the Navy. He’s licensed to fly multiengine and single engine airplanes, just like Tammie Jo. An article from 2006 said that both she and Dean were pilots for Southwest Airlines. She’s a Christian, and once said that sitting in the captain’s chair as a pilot gave her the opportunity “to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”
Dean and Tammie Jo have two children, Sydney and Marshall.
Tammie Jo also ran a company in Texas with her husband Dean called Girl Pilot Stuff, incorporated in 2004.
Her brother-in-law, Gary Shults, told The Associated Press, “She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack. My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows. She’s a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people.”
One of the passengers on the plane, Alfred Tumlinson, told the AP, “She has 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. She was awesome. The lady, the crew, everything, everybody was immaculate. They were so professional in what they did to get us on the ground.”
Another passenger, Amy Bourman, told Reuters, “God sent his angels to watch over us.”
Shults’ mother-in-law, Virginia Shults, told The Washington Post, “I know God was with her, and I know she was talking to God.”
5. A Female Passenger Was Partially Sucked Out of the Airplane Window, According to Passengers, but Shults Remained Calm & Collected the Entire Time
In the video above, you can hear Shults remaining calm and professional, even during the emergency. According to NBC 10, “the jet violently depressurized when a piece of an engine flew into and broke a window” and “a female passenger was partially sucked out of the plane when the window imploded.” Other passengers said that a passenger suffered a heart attack during the flight, and someone was hit by shrapnel.
During a press conference, a member of the media asked if the plane “free fell” during part of the descent after the engine exploded, as had been reported by some passengers. An official with Southwest Airlines said: “Certainly when you’re at altitude and bring an aircraft down during this, it happens in a fairly rapid manner.”
Timothy Bourman, a passenger on the flight, told WFAA 8 that he was in the back of the plane when he heard a boom, and it felt like the plane dropped 100 feet. He said it felt like the pilot had struggled to control the plane for a moment and passengers were told to brace for impact, but the pilot regained control and landed safely. “Thankful to God, thankful to that pilot,” he said.
Officials said most of the injuries were only minor, but passengers did amazing things to help during the flight, officials said during a press conference. It was later reported by the NTSB that one passenger died. NTSB is investigating the cause of the accident. There were 143 passengers on the flight and five crew.