Dallas-based Southwest Airlines recently marked 50 years since its incorporation in March 1967. (Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

Local News

Southwest Pilot: “Airplane Not on Fire, But Part of It Is Missing”

Audio surfaces of the remarkably cool-headed Southwest pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, who safely landed her damaged plane yesterday

Given how fast things move around the internet these days, you may have already heard the audio recording of the conversation between air traffic control and Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults, who successfully made an emergency landing of her Dallas-bound damaged aircraft in Philadelphia yesterday, saving her passengers and some of our friends.

To say Shults remained cool in a moment of panic is a vast understatement. During the descent, Shults, a Navy veteran and former fighter pilot and instructor, believed that one of her passengers had flown out of the plane,  an absolutely terrifying scenario that only makes Shults’ collected and pragmatic demeanor all the more incredible. Although it turned out that the passenger was not ejected, shrapnel from the plane’s exploded engine smashed a cabin window and caused a fatal injury. Here’s how Shults relayed the scene to air traffic control:

“Could you have the medical meet us on the runway there as well, we have injured passengers,” Shults says.

“Injured passengers, okay,” the air traffic control officer confirms. “Is your aircraft physically on fire?”

“No, it’s not on fire but part of it is missing,” Shults responds matter of fact-ly. “They said there is a hole and someone went out.”

“I’m sorry, there is a hole and somebody went out?” the officer asks. “Pilot 1380 it doesn’t matter, we’ll work it out there. So the airport is just off to your right, report it in sight please.”

“In sight,” the pilot confirms. “Pilot 1380, airport in sight.”

Yesterday was a frightening day. The sound of Shults’ voice is about the only thing that could bring reassurance to such an awful situation. Shults has a long track record of being a remarkable human being:

Shults joined the Navy in 1985 and completed flight training in Pensacola, Fla. She rose to the rank of lieutenant commander before leaving the Navy Reserve in 2001. In her Navy career, Shults served in the now-defunct VAQ-34 Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron in Point Mugu, Calif., as an instructor pilot flying the F/A-18 Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler.

Shults was among the first female pilots “to transition to tactical aircraft” such as fighter jets, the Navy says. In the early 90s, her squadron was highlighted for its “avant garde” approach to integrating women and men into all responsibilities.

Both Shults and her husband, Dean, are pilots for Southwest and live in Texas.

“She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack,” Shults’ brother-in-law, Gary Shults, told the AP. “My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows. She’s a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people.”