The woman at the controls of a Southwest Airlines jet that that suffered an engine explosion on Tuesday is a barrier-breaking former Navy pilot and a devout Christian, according to published reports.
Although Southwest did not identify the pilot of the Dallas-bound plane that was forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia, passengers praised Tammie Jo Shults, 56, as the one responsible for bringing the plane safely to a landing after an engine blew apart at 32,000 feet. One passenger was killed in the incident.
“There are not enough words to thank her. Her grace and knowledge under pressure were remarkable. She came through the plane personally to check on us after she landed our crippled airplane. God bless her and her flight crew. We were truly all in amazing hands,” passenger Diana McBride Self posted on her Facebook page.
“She has nerves of steel,” passenger Alfred Tumlinson, Self’s husband, told the The Associated Press. “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.”
Shults was matter-of-fact in reporting the incident, according to The Washington Post, which quoted a recording of her conversation with air traffic controllers.
“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” she said. “We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.”
After explaining that there were injured passengers who would need medical attention when she landed, she was asked whether the plane was on fire.
“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Shults said. “They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”
After the plane had safely landed, she added a message to the ground crew.
“Thank you. … Thanks, guys, for the help,” she said.
“I know God was with her, and I know she was talking to God,” said Virginia Shults, the pilot’s mother-in-law.
Some passengers agreed.
“God sent his angels to watch over us,” passenger Amanda Bourman wrote on her Instagram account.
Reuters reported Shults has said that being a pilot gave her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”
Shults was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy. She joined the service after the Air Force rejected her bid to become a pilot following her graduation from MidAmerica Nazarene College in Olathe, Kansas.
Former college classmate Cindy Foster told the The Kansas City Star that Shults faced “a lot of resistance” because she was a woman.
“So she knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. … I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives today.”
Kim Young, another friend, said the composure Shults showed Tuesday was a part of her character.
“Those are the kinds of people you want as pilots,” she said. “That’s what she does, and she’s good at it.”
Kevin Garber, the director of alumni relations for MidAmerica Nazarene, said Shults visited the campus last spring to encourage women to enter non-traditional fields.
“She had tenacity to do something that excelled beyond the norm of what women were allowed or expected to do,” Garber said. “She pushed the limits and became what she strived for.”
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