Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo-Shults said she pushed away the fear when trying to stop a flight from crashing. Picture: ABC
Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo-Shults said she pushed away the fear when trying to stop a flight from crashing. Picture: ABC

Hero pilot ‘traded flights’ with hubby

THE heroic pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight has detailed how she was not afraid while making an emergency landing after an engine exploded and a passenger was partially sucked out of a broken window.

In an interview with ABC television in the US, Tammie-Jo Shults spoke alongside co-pilot Darren Ellisor about the incident which cost passenger Jennifer Riordan her life.

The plane was travelling at 32,000 feet when one of the engines failed, sending a piece of shrapnel flying into the window where Riordan was sitting.

Tammie-Jo Shults with husband Dean who was supposed to be flying the plane but they had swapped shifts. Picture: MidAmerica Nazarene University
Tammie-Jo Shults with husband Dean who was supposed to be flying the plane but they had swapped shifts. Picture: MidAmerica Nazarene University

In the interview, Shults also revealed how she was not even supposed to be flying that day but swapped shifts with her pilot husband Dean so she could make it to their son' school athletics competition in Texas.

"It was really like any other flying day," Shults recalled of the flight "I traded for the trip with my husband. I'm not trading with him anymore.:

"Dean, being the amazing husband he is, said, 'You go to the track meet, I'll switch and take your trip.' And so that's why I was on the trip," she told the 20/20 program in the US.

Shults' co-pilot Darren Ellisor described the moment the engine exploded, saying, "We had a large bang and a rapid decompression.

 

Co-pilot Darren Ellisor. Picture: ABC
Co-pilot Darren Ellisor. Picture: ABC

 

Tammie Jo-Shults has been lauded for her skills in navigating the plane to safety. Picture: ABC
Tammie Jo-Shults has been lauded for her skills in navigating the plane to safety. Picture: ABC

"The aircraft yawed and banked to the left, a little over 40 degrees, and we had a very severe vibration from the number one engine that was shaking everything.

"And that all kind of happened all at once."

Both pilots claimed fear didn't enter their minds, but that they resorted to their previous air force training.

"You just realise, obviously, we're at the front end of the aircraft, so we're in charge," Shults said.

 

Investigators on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board
Investigators on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board

"I don't remember anything other than starting to think through what the plan is. And it worked well," she said.

"Your instincts kick in, you know, stuff that you've prepared for, you know, ever since you started flying … and this training just takes over.

 

An investigator checks out the engine. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board
An investigator checks out the engine. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board

 

"Was there some of that fear? There probably was deep down, but I, you know, pushed it away," Ellisor continued.

Shults said she immediately went back to her fighter pilot days flying in the Navy.

"My first thoughts were actually, "Oh, here we go." Just because it seems like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.

 

The destroyed engine is seen from the plane. Picture: Supplied
The destroyed engine is seen from the plane. Picture: Supplied

 

The window which was destroyed by shrapnel. Picture: Supplied
The window which was destroyed by shrapnel. Picture: Supplied

"And we had to use hand signals [and some yelling], because it was loud, and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons," she said.

Shults said they were not immediately aware of the fate of Riordan until they were close to landing and were told there would need to be immediate medical assistance.

 

Donald Trump greets Tammie-Jo Shults at the White House. Picture: AFP/Saul Loeb
Donald Trump greets Tammie-Jo Shults at the White House. Picture: AFP/Saul Loeb

Shults said in the interview that she initially hadn't wanted to speak publicly out of respect for Riordan's family, but that the late woman's husband had been generous in his praise of the pilot and crew who tried to save her life.

 

Jennifer Riordan, died during the incident. Picture: Jennifer Riordan
Jennifer Riordan, died during the incident. Picture: Jennifer Riordan

"Hearing some of the things that her husband has said subsequently that just makes us think what a sweet and rich family they are.

"We wanted to be respectful and let them have some time to mourn without us being public."

Despite having only met a few days prior to the incident, Shults and Ellisor now say they're bonded for life.

 

The two also went to the White House where they were feted by US President Donald Trump.

"Going through something like this, it certainly galvanises your personalities together and your friendship. I mean, we'll be in touch the rest of our lives," Ellisor said.

"It really was life-changing. I mean, because it's not something that we've ever had happen before, and you know, almost certainly won't happen again because the chances are just too astronomical.

 

An investigator checks out the engine. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board
An investigator checks out the engine. Picture: AFP/National Transportation Safety Board

"So you have this surreal moment of going through it and working together to solve the problem.

"And then you're left to pick up the pieces once we land and move on. And you know, that's something we'll do together as a team and as a family and I'm happy that she was with me."


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