In a new book, pilot Tammie Jo Shults writes about just how close Southwest 1380 came to complete disaster. On April 17, 2018, moments after taking off from LaGuardia Airport en route to Dallas Love Field, a blade from the aircraft’s engine brook off, shredding the engine and scattering debris toward the fuselage. A piece of debris smashed a window in the airplane’s main cabin causing it to decompress and sucking a passenger out of the plane. The passenger was pulled back in by other passengers, but she later died from her injuries–the first fatality in the airline’s history. But as Shults writes in her new memoir, it all could have played out even more devastatingly:
The powerless engine and hole in the fuselage made the plane difficult to maneuver and they lost more than 18,000 feet of altitude in 18 minutes.
“I wasn’t sure how much more battering the aircraft could take before something else failed and we had a worse situation to deal with,” Shults wrote. “We obviously needed the big pieces to remain attached in order to land.”
In reality, her account said, things could have gone much worse and all 149 passengers aboard might not have made it.
“So many things had gone wrong that day, but so many things had gone right, too,” she wrote. “The distance between the explosion and Philadelphia was just the right distance for us to have made it to Philly. We couldn’t have made an airport any farther away.”
The new book offers the most detailed account of the fateful day from the perspective of the pilot, who was mostly silent after the incident. After the accident, Shults took three-and-a-half weeks off and began working on her book. She still flies once a month, and her husband, also a pilot, flies the beleaguered Boeing 737 Max jet for Southwest. While the Southwest 1380 is the central episode in the memoir, most of Shults’ new book deals with her experience making it as a female pilot in the often sexist airline industry.
Southwest 1380 hit hard at D Magazine. Two friends of the publication–Coalition for a New Dallas board member Matt Tranchin and Marty Martinez–were on the flight. Matt spoke to Tim and Zac about it all in an emotional episode of EarBurner, which you can revisit here.