STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) — The commercial airline pilot who emergency-landed a jet with a failed engine this week is being hailed as a hero for her quick thinking and skill under pressure, but she has always been a flying force to be reckoned with.
Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was one of two pilots who landed the Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 after a blown engine caused a terrifying scene inside the aircraft. Debris from the failed engine shattered a window on the plane through which a woman was almost defenestrated. Passengers managed to keep the woman inside the plane, but Jennifer Riordan, a bank executive and mother of two, later died as a result of her injuries.
During the harrowing ordeal on the New York to Dallas flight, Shults, a former Navy pilot, kept a cool head, maneuvering the jet with just one engine and landing it safely in Philadelphia. It was all part of her training.
A fellow pilot familiar with her work told CBS2 News Shults was “ahead of her time.”
“A woman aviator — that alone is such a small, unique circle,” said Cdr. Jennifer Tinjum of the U.S. Naval Academy. She is featured with Shults in the book “Military Fly Moms.”
“That’s what we train for,” said Tinjum of Tuesday’s incident. “Years and years you may fly, and nothing ever happens, but when it does, that instinct kicks in and that training kicks in.”
Part of that training included flying Prowler jets at the Point Magu naval base in Ventura County for four years. Because women were banned from combat during her tenure there, she taught men the art of aerial electronic warfare.
Shults then earned her wings on the formidable Hornet jet, becoming one of the first women to ever fly America’s most advanced fighter jet of its day.
“She experienced all the same kind of training that her peers, her male peers, did,” said Tinjum. “She just got to the point where she finally had to fight her way into receiving a combat kind of look, so, she was just ahead of her time.”
That training was crucial Tuesday, as she managed to reunite almost all of her 149 passengers with their loved ones.
Tinjum told CBS2 that heroism and ability was not lost on her own daughters.
“First thing they say when they see the news is, ‘Mom! Have you ever done that,’ or ‘Has that ever happened to you?'” she told CBS2. “Thankfully, no. The fact that they’re putting two and two together — ‘Hey, my mom does this’ — you know, makes me feel proud of what I did in the past that they haven’t gotten to see.”
Southwest Airlines released a statement from Capt. Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor, which read:
“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.”
Federal aviation investigators said Wednesday they believe metal fatigue led to an engine fan blade breaking in-flight, triggering the engine blowout.