Tammie Jo Shults, the hero Southwest pilot who emergency-landed a plane after its engine exploded in mid-air, is a Navy veteran who broke ground as one of the first female fighter pilots in the military.

The Incident

As the Kansas City Star reports, Shults was piloting Southwest Airlines Flight 1380—a twin-engine Boeing 737 traveling from New York to Dallas with 149 people on board—when one of its engines blew out at 32,000 feet. Shrapnel from the explosion destroyed a window and nearly caused a woman to be sucked out of the aircraft, but a group of passengers managed to pull her back in.

A calm, cool and collected Shults can be heard informing air traffic controllers of the situation.

“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” Shults said. “We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.”

Shults then asks if medical personnel could meet the plane on the runway in Philadelphia to treat injured passengers.

“Injured passengers, okay, and is your airplane physically on fire?” an air traffic controller asks.

“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Shults replies. “They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”

Shults then took the plane into descent and made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport. One person—the woman who was nearly sucked out of the aircraft—was killed, and seven others were injured as a result of the accident.

Shults has rightfully been labeled a hero for her actions that day, but who is she?

Tammie Jo Shults

According to the Washington Post, Shults—who grew up on a New Mexico ranch near Holloman Air Force Base—graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas in 1983. After graduation, she set about joining the Air Force.

In the book “Military Fly Moms” by Linda Maloney, Shults recalls that the Air Force “wasn’t interested” in recruiting her, so she applied for the Navy’s Aviation Officer Candidate School.

After completing AOCS in Pensacola, Fla., Shults was assigned to Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, Texas, where she served as an instructor, teaching students how to fly the T-2 Buckeye trainer. She later flew the A-7 Corsair at Naval Air Station Lemoore in California, the Post said.

Shults was one of the first women to fly the F/A-18 Hornet, but only in a support role, not in combat.

“Women were new to the Hornet community, and already there were signs of growing pains,” Shults recalled.

Shults served in the Navy for 10 years, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander. She left the service in 1993 and eventually became a pilot for Southwest Airlines.


Kim Young, a friend of Shults’, told the Star that Shults’ composure during the incident was due to her military experience.

“Those are the kinds of people you want as pilots,” she said. “That’s what she does, and she’s good at it.”

Furthermore, passenger Alfred Tumlinson praised the actions of Shults and her crew that day.

“She has nerves of steel. 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,” Tomlinson said, according to the Associated Press. “The lady, the crew, everything, everybody was immaculate. They were so professional in what they did to get us on the ground.”

Another passenger, Diana McBride Self, echoed similar sentiments regarding Shults.

“Her grace and knowledge under pressure were remarkable,” Self wrote on Facebook. “She came through the plane personally to check on us after she landed our crippled airplane. … We were truly all in amazing hands.”

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