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Heroic Southwest pilot is 'thankful to God' after plane save, Navy friend says

A friend who flew with Tammie Jo Shults in the Navy called the heroic Southwest pilot "humble" and God-fearing.
/ Source: TODAY

An old Navy buddy of heroic Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults said Shults felt her hand guided from above when she safely landed a crippled 737 after one of its engines blew apart in midair Tuesday.

"Her faith played a big role in this, and she's really thankful to God that she was the person that piloted the aircraft and she was able to save all those lives," Linda Maloney, who flew with Shults in the Navy in the 1980s, told TODAY.

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Maloney immediately thought of her old friend after seeing reports that a cool-headed female pilot had avoided catastrophe aboard a Dallas-bound Southwest flight.

She and Shults had been among the first female fighter pilots in the Navy, and Shults had stood out, earning three service medals and rising to the rank of lieutenant commander.

"I immediately texted Tammie Jo and said, 'Hey is this you?'" Maloney recalled. "And she responded back that, yes, it was. (In) classic Tammie Jo speak, she said, 'God is good.'"

U.S. Navy Lt. Tammie Jo Shults in 1993. The heroic Southwest pilot was one of the first women to fly Navy tactical aircraft.AP

"I know that Tammie Jo wouldn't consider herself a hero," Maloney added. "She's a humble individual. But I know a lot of other people especially those people on the airplane consider her a hero."

Southwest Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after the its left engine blew shortly after takeoff, showering the jet with shrapnel. Debris smashed open a window, causing an immediate decompression of the air cabin and leading to the death of one passenger who was partially sucked out the opening.

After successfully completing the emergency landing, Shults walked through the cabin to check on everyone, a passenger said.

“Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally. This is a true American Hero,” Diana McBride Self wrote in a Facebook post.

“A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew.”

Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults, left, was called "a true American hero" by one of her passengers.Kevin Garber / MidAmerica Nazarene University

Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, also commend her bravery.

“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her,” he told The Associated Press. “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.”

A recording of a cockpit exchange captured Shults calmly explaining the emergency to an air traffic controller.

“We have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she says.

Shults also asked for medical personnel to meet her aircraft on the runway because “we’ve got injured passengers.”

At another point, she calmly states that the plane has been damaged and that a passenger had been sucked out the window.

“No it’s not on fire, but some of it’s missing,” she says before a slight pause. “They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”

The pilot's mother-in-law told The Washington Post that she wasn't surprised by what she heard after listening to the radio transmission of her daughter-in-law.

"That is Tammie Jo. It was just as if she and I were sitting here talking,” Virginia Shults said. “She’s a very calming person.”

Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, died after the Southwest jet's engine exploded. AP

The plane took off Tuesday at 11:20 a.m. from New York's LaGuardia Airport, carrying 144 passengers and five crew members.

After the plane lost its left engine, part of the fuselage broke apart and smashed into a window.

Jennifer Riordan, a mother of two from New Mexico, was yanked from her seat and partially sucked outside. Other passengers grabbed on to her and pulled her to safety but she later died from her injuries.

Seven other people also were hurt.

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“Knowing Tammie Jo, I know her heart is broken for the death of that passenger,” her mother-in-law told the Post.

Shults' husband is also a Southwest pilot. Her brother-in-law described her as "sharp as a tack."

"My brother says she's the best pilot he knows," Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio, told The Associated Press. "She's a very caring, giving person who takes care of lots of people."