Southwest Pilot Tammie Jo Shults Speaks Out on Fatal Flight

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On April 17, Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was operating a Southwest Airlines plane with 144 passengers and five crew members on board when the left engine exploded, causing a passenger window to shatter and the cabin to depressurize. From the cockpit, she steadied the aircraft and calmly radioed air traffic controllers: “Descending.” Shults, one of the first women to serve as a fighter pilot in the Navy, successfully made the emergency landing in Philadelphia.

For the first time since her brave actions, Shults is speaking out about the harrowing incident. In a clip for Friday’s upcoming 20/20 episode, she says her first thoughts were, “Oh, here we go.”

“Just because it seemed like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.”Shults, 56, says in the show’s teaser. “We had to use hand signals because it was loud and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.”

Her co-pilot Darren Ellisor, who appears alongside Shults in the interview, says it was a tumultuous moment, where quick actions saved lives. “We were passing through about 32 thousand feet when we heard a large bang and a rapid decompression,” recalls Ellisor. “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. There was shaking, everything. And that all kinda happened all at once.”

However, there was one passenger who did not survive. When the engine explosion blew open the passenger window, Jennifer Riordan, a New Mexico bank executive and mother of two, was partially sucked out. Fellow passengers had to pull her back into the plane and she later died at a Philadelphia hospital, reports CNN.

Courtesy 20/20

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Those on board the flight that day are calling Shults a “hero” for her calm demeanor during chaos.

“This is a true American hero,” passenger Diana McBride Self wrote in a post on Facebook after landing. “A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.”



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