Bravo to Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, who perfectly landed Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 after an engine blew and frenzied passengers struggled to rescue a woman partially sucked out the window. The passengers texted hurried goodbyes to loved ones; gripped their oxygen masks; braced for impact and the horror beyond.
During unimaginable mayhem, a still voice prevailed.
“Southwest 1380 has an engine fire,” Shults radioed air traffic controllers without a scintilla of alarm. “Descending.” For the next 40 minutes she maneuvered the plane, en route from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field, to Philadelphia for an emergency landing at high speed.
Capt. Shults is a former Navy pilot. Her focused professionalism in the midst of chaos should surprise no one — yet for many it’s a source of mild bewilderment. How did she manage it? This is how.
Shults joined the Navy in 1985, was one of its first non-male fighter pilots and served in a VAQ-34, a tactical electronic warfare squadron that trained ship crews to respond to Soviet missile threats.
Then she served as an instructor for the EA-6B Prowler, a warfare plane capable of jamming radar systems and gathering Intel. She also piloted the F/A-18 Hornet when women were barred from combat missions.
Shults retired as a lieutenant commander with two Navy Marine Corps Achievement Medals and a National Defense Service Medal.
What the captain executed with ultra-professional aplomb in those April 17 skies was no miracle, no one-off. Her actions were the fruition of decades of training and acquired skill.
While it is our right and privilege to hail Capt. Shults as a hero, she instinctively rejects the title. “We all feel we were simply doing our jobs,” she said in a joint statement with first captain Daren Ellisor.
Shults, who has declined subsequent media interviews and attention, is back in the cockpit doing her job. She prefers the still voice and steady hand to celebrity. Given our culture, genuine modesty is perhaps the greatest definition of heroism.
Thank you, Tammie Jo Shults.
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