Who Is Tammie Jo Shults? 5 New Details About Hero Southwest Airlines Pilot Who Saved 148 Lives

tammie jo shults
Entertainment And News

After the Southwest airlines engine exploded off at 30,000 feet.

A Southwest Airlines flight had to make an emergency landing Tuesday morning when the plane's engine exploded midair, sending debris through the body of the plane and creating an air suction hole from the blasted window.

144 passengers were aboard Boeing 737 flight from New York City to Dallas and all of their lives were in the hands of Southwest airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults, who eventually emergency landed the flight in Philadelphia. Sadly, one passenger eventually died from her injuries. 

Listen to the Southwest pilot audio of Tammie Jo Shults below. She's shockingly calm as she speaks to air traffic control:


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Passenger Marty Martinez recalled, "Everybody was going crazy, and yelling and screaming. As the plane is going down, I am literally purchasing internet just so I can get some kind of communication to the outside world..."

"...I didn't know if we were going to be running into a building. I didn't know what state the plane or even the pilot was in, if we were in condition to land," he continued. "Finally when we ... came to a halt, of course, the entire crowd was (in) tears and people crying and we were just thankful to be alive."

Heroic pilot Tammie Jo Shults was able to have "nerves of steel" and land the plane calmly. (Watch the full video of Southwest airlines emergency landing here.)

After realizing the plane was in trouble, she made a distress call to air traffic control, asking for medical personnel to meet the plane on the Philadelphia runway. She successfully made an emergency landing at the Philadelphia International Airport, sparing the lives of 148 passengers and personnel on the aircraft. Sadly, one woman died. She's been identified as Wells Fargo executive Jennifer Riordan. 

Another passenger, Diana Mcbride, said on Facebook of former Navy pilot Shults, “[She] is a true American hero,” and also applauded her “her guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation.” She added that Shults “came back to speak to each of [the passengers] personally.” 

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So who is Tammie Jo Shults? Here's a few things we know about the amazingly heroic pilot:

1. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy.

Tammie always wanted to be a pilot. She grew up watching planes from her home state of New Mexico. When she was in high school she tried to attend 'aviation career day' but wasn't allowed because she was a woman. She decided to go to MidAmerica Nazarene University (MNU) in Olath, Kansas to study veterinary medicine but when she attended a friend's "wings" ceremony (where a pilot gets their wings) she noticed there was a woman in his class.

After graduating from MNU, she applied to the Air Force Academy — and even though she wasn't allowed to test to become a pilot, they accepted her application. Soon enough she became one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy and later became an instructor. 

2. Her husband is also a pilot. 

Tammie's husband Dean a licensed pilot, Medical Class 1, and also served in the Navy. Reports say they both have flown for Southwest Sirlines. Dean is trained to fly multi-engine and single-engine planes as well. The couple lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas and have two children.

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3. She's a devout Christian. 

Tammie has said before that sitting in the captain’s chair as a pilot gave her the opportunity “to witness for Christ on almost every flight.” Her mother-in-law was quoted after the emergency landing saying “I know God was with her, and I know she was talking to God.” 

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4. People are comparing her to Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. 

Captain Sully is most famous for landing a plane safely in the Hudson River saving the lives of everyone on board. People say the two are both national heroes. A passenger, Alfred Tumlinson said , “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.

Tammie's brother-in-law, Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio says of Tammie, "She's a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack. My brother says she's the best pilot he knows. She's a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people."

5. She always knew she was meant to fly. 

Shults seemed to always know she was meant to be in the air. “Some people grow up around aviation. I grew up under it,” she said. Watching the daily air shows in her hometown, she knew she “just had to fly.” She proved plenty of people wrong, broke many gender stereotypes, and persevered to get where she is today. We're so glad she did — and we bet so are the passengers of Southwest Airlines flight 1380.

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Molly Given is a writer living in Philadelphia and lover of all things to do with mystery and magic in life. When she’s not writing her fingers off she can be found planning her next adventure in a new part of the world.