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Heroic Pilot Tammie Jo Shults Lands Plane Amidst Terrifying Malfunction

The woman is heroic, the situation is nightmarish. Strap yourselves in and thank goodness for Tammie Jo Shults. On average, 8 million people fly every day, but we don’t hear about the success rate of flights as often as incredibly infrequent tragedies. While flying is statistically the safest way to travel by far, here comes the but. This past Tuesday, a Southwest flight experienced the scariest thing that nobody wants to think about: catastrophic engine failure.

This number should probably be higher, but three out of five people have some sort of life insurance policy and we’re absolutely sure that this is why. During a routine flight to Dallas, one of the engines on the 737 exploded. The explosion caused shrapnel to rip through the hull of the plane and depressurize the cabin. A woman was almost sucked out of the hull breach before being pulled back in by fellow passengers. Having one engine completely useless and a hole in the hull, the plane had to reroute for an emergency landing in Philadelphia.

Naturally, the passengers were terrified. Some even live streamed via Facebook Live video what they thought were going to be the last moments of their lives. The pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, addressed the situation with unwavering calmness. In the audio recording to air traffic control, you can hear the stillness of her voice as she maneuvers an emergency landing: “Southwest 1380, we’re single engine. We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit. We’ve got injured passengers.”

With 149 passengers on the flight, she successfully landed the aircraft one-engine in Philadelphia. The woman who was nearly sucked out of the plane died later in the hospital, but Tammie Jo Shults saved the lives of 148 passengers.

Always wanting to be a pilot, she broke barriers in a male dominated field. From being condescendingly asked if she was lost during an aviation lecture, she went on to be one of the first female fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy. Training and determination that shined through and saved the lives of so many earlier this week. One passenger noted her bravery in the face of a traumatic event, taking the time to speak personally with every single passenger after landing. The same passenger remarked: “This is a true American hero.” We couldn’t agree more.

Southwest is checking all the planes in their fleet. A move that some other airlines are mirroring. The engine type has seen problems before. In 2016, some 218 million people traveled to and from the U.S. by airplane and Southwest saw the same engine failure that year, though no one was hurt. Needless to say, they’re taking a closer look now as this past Tuesday was the first airline death in the United States in almost 10 years.

Passengers were obviously grateful, applauding her resolve, but Shults and her copilot released a somber statement: “As Captain and First Officer of the crew of five who worked to serve our Customers aboard Flight 1380 yesterday, we all feel we were simply doing our jobs. Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss.”

It behooves us to remember the life tragically lost, but also to celebrate the lives preserved by a truly heroic woman and her crew.

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