Tammie Jo Shults is one of America’s first female fighter pilots who joined the navy more than two decades ago to prove to the world that she was no less than other male aviators in the military.
Twenty-five years later, her aviation skills and nerves of steel made headlines in the news after she safely landed a damaged Boeing 737 with 149 people on board.
A Sudden Explosion
A Delta-bound flight with 149 passengers on board ran into huge trouble after just 20 minutes of taking off from an airport in New York when one of the plane’s engines exploded, sending a shrapnel hurling through a passenger window.
All hell broke loose on the Southwestern Airlines flight as masks dropped from above the seats and one passenger was sucked out of the broken window. Despite the plane being in a state of utter chaos, fighter jet pilot Tammie Jo Shults, who was now in control of the damaged aircraft’s fate, maintained a calm demeanor as she expertly guided the Boeing 737 to safety.
Screaming passengers on the plane scrambled to help a woman who was being sucked out of a broken window after debris from the exploded engine shattered its glass. Many of the passengers pulled out their cellphones to bid their loved ones goodbye over text messages.
However, none of the panic onboard was reflected in Shults’ voice as she calmly conveyed the emergency to the air traffic control. In a radio message to the controller, she said that the engine on Southwest 1380 had caught fire and she was now preparing for an emergency landing.
Female Fighter Pilot Praised for Aviation Skills
The controllers gave her clearance for making an emergency landing at the closest airport in Philadelphia which was 40 minutes away. For the next several minutes, the captain used her aviation training from the military days to carefully maneuver the damaged flight 1380 to safety while horrified passengers aboard held on to the oxygen masks tightly, bracing for impact.
Only one passenger, who had been flung out of the broken window 3,000 feet in the air due to sudden decompression, suffered from critical injuries. Despite the flight attendants’ efforts to save her life, the passenger died at the hospital from blunt force trauma to her torso, head, and neck.
After landing the plane safely, befuddled passengers applauded the female pilot for her skillfulness and valor – some even hugged and thanked her for saving their lives. However, both Captain Shults and first Officer Daren Ellisor modestly overlooked the praises in their joint statement, saying that they were only performing their duty, and any other pilot in their position would have done exactly the same.
Career in the Navy
Shults said that even though she was extremely relieved that the emergency landing went as smoothly as expected, her heart was filled with grief for the family of one of the passengers who lost her life as a result of the accident. Both pilots, who have already been interviewed by aviation investigators, have declined to give any more statements to the media.
None of the military officers who served with Shults ever since she first joined the Navy more than thirty years ago were surprised by the female fighter jet pilot’s display of bravery and aviation skills in landing the damaged plane.
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Christina Helenaleka Sears said that Shults was one of the first female pilots to make the transition to tactical electronic warfare squadron called VAQ-34, which, at the time, was completely dominated by male aviators.
A Heroic Pilot
Retired Navy flight officer Linda Maloney, who was a close friend to Shults during her career in the navy, said that the former fighter pilot was extremely passionate about flying planes, and even though she was initially discriminated due to her gender and rejected by the Air Force, she continued to pursue her dream of becoming a pilot after joining the navy.
Martinez, a passenger on the unfortunate Boeing 737 plane said that the passengers cried tears of joy after the plane safely landed on the runway and many of them rushed to hug the heroic pilot as soon as she came out of her cabin. Apart from the death of one female passenger named Jennifer Riordan, seven other passengers were treated for minor injuries.