Passengers are praising the Southwest pilot on Flight 1380 after she safely landed the plane following an engine explosion on Tuesday. According to passengers' accounts, Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults remained calm throughout the emergency that ultimately resulted in the death of one person, displaying what some of them called "nerves of steel." As more information about Shults comes to light, it's clear that she's a woman with a history of breaking down gender barriers in aviation to boot.
Southwest Airlines has not officially released the name of the pilot involved in Tuesday's emergency landing, but passengers and family have confirmed her identity to both The Washington Post and the Associated Press. Some passengers have also praised her for how she handled the situation after an engine on Flight 1380 exploded, sending shrapnel into the aircraft. That then caused a window to blow out and a female passenger to be partially sucked out of the aircraft; although passengers managed to pull the woman back into the plane, she later died.
"She has nerves of steel," passenger Alfred Tumlinson told 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."
Diana McBride Self, another passenger on board Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, took to Facebook to publicly commend Shults and offer "a huge thank you" to her for "her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation."
"God bless her and all the crew," Self wrote, adding that Shults had come back and personally spoke to each passenger after the landing. "This is a true American Hero."
Passenger Eric Zilbert reportedly told the Kansas City Star that Shults retained control of the Boeing 737 despite the blown engine. "The plane was steady as a rock after," the paper reported Zilbert said. "I didn't have any fear that it was out of control."
But Shults isn't just a commercial airline pilot with nerves of steel, she's reportedly also been a female pioneer in the aviation industry. According to the Associated Press, Shults "was among the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. military," having flown for the U.S. Navy before taking to the skies with Southwest Airlines.
In Linda Maloney's book, Military Fly Moms, Shults reportedly admitted to being drawn to a career in aviation from a young age having grown up near Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, the Washington Post reported. But according to Shults, her gender meant she faced significant opposition when trying to first break into the industry. When the Air Force expressed no interest in her, Shults turned to the Navy, which reportedly allowed her to apply for aviation officer candidate school.
According to the Washington Post, Shults worked as an instructor pilot at Naval Air Station Chase Field in Texas after finishing aviation officer candidate school. The U.S. military's combat exclusion law prohibited her from flying in a combat squadron during her 10 year career in the Navy. However, at one point in her career Shults was reportedly one of the first women to ever fly the F/A-18 Hornet, a Navy fighter plane.
Prior to her career in the Navy, Shults graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University with degrees in biology and agribusiness, a spokesperson for the university told the Kansas City Star. Kevin Garber, MidAmerica Nazarene's director of alumni relations, told the paper that Shults was known to be an advocate of diversity and often encouraged women to push into traditionally male-dominated industries.
"She had tenacity to do something that excelled beyond the norm of what women were allowed or expected to do," the Kansas City Star reported Garber said in reference to Shults. "She pushed the limits and became what she strived for."