The pilot who landed the fatal Southwest flight performed an incredible feat — but those who know her weren’t surprised

  • Tammie Jo Shults gained praise for safely landing a Southwest Airlines flight after an engine exploded on Tuesday.
  • Shults was one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots, and she received a number of awards during her seven years of service.
  • Shults has also taught Sunday School at her church, performed volunteer work for at-risk children, and opened a cottage on her family’s property to victims of Hurricane Rita.

Landing a plane with an exploded engine and a busted cabin window would challenge even the most experienced pilot.

But those who know Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight that made an emergency landing on Tuesday after an engine malfunctioned, weren’t surprised she handled the situation with poise.

“That’s Tammie, that’s Tammie, that’s her,” longtime friend Robert Bruce told The Dallas Morning News. “She’s not the type to panic.”

Shults was praised for her conduct during and after the landing

Passengers on Flight 1380 praised Shults for her conduct during and after the emergency landing. While passengers reported emotional turmoil in the aircraft’s cabin, an audio recording obtained by NBC between Shults and air traffic control paints a different picture in the cockpit. On the recording, Shults sounds calm as she reports hearing that a passenger “went out” a window.

Her mother-in-law, Virginia Shults, told The Washington Post she recognized Tammie Jo’s voice when she heard the recording and wasn’t surprised at her composure.

“It was just as if she and I were sitting here talking,” she said. “She’s a very calming person.”

After the flight landed, passengers remarked on how she addressed them individually to make sure they were alright.

Shults has declined to give interviews after the incident, but Southwest released a statement attributed to her and the flight’s first officer, Darren Ellisor.

“We all feel we were simply doing our jobs,” the statement read. “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.”

She had a decorated tenure in the Navy

Shults grew up in New Mexico and developed an interest in aviation from a young age, when she would watch Air Force planes fly over her family’s ranch.

But she faced obstacles as early as high school. Once, when she attended a lecture about aviation given by a retired colonel during a career day, the speaker asked if she was lost because she was the only woman present.

“He started the class by asking me, the only girl in attendance, if I was lost,” she said in Linda Maloney’s book, “Military Fly Moms.” “I mustered up the courage to assure him I was not and that I was interested in flying. He allowed me to stay but assured me there were no professional women pilots.”

“I did not say another word. In my heart, I hoped that God had given me an interest in flying for a reason. I had never touched an airplane, but I knew flying was my future. My junior year in college, I met a girl who had just received her Air Force wings. My heart jumped. Girls did fly! I set to work trying to break into the club.”

After the Air Force rejected her, Shults applied for aviation officer candidate school in the Navy. She was accepted, but Maloney, who also served in the Navy, told Business Insider that instructors were unsure of how to teach female students.

“The instructors were a little bit tentative and standoffish. I don’t think they knew what to think to because the problem was there we so few of us,” she said. “There were two or three women in flight school when I was there.”

Shults was commissioned in 1985 and became an instructor pilot in Texas. While she was not allowed to fly combat missions, Shults rose through the ranks and eventually became one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots. By the time she left Navy in 1993, she had become a lieutenant commander, received a National Defense Service Medal, expert pistol Marksmanship Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal twice, according to The Post.

She’s an active member of her community

During her service, she would also meet her husband, Dean Shults, a fellow pilot. Both would later become pilots for Southwest Airlines. They currently live in the San Antonio area and have two children.

Shults is an active member in her community, Staci Thompson, a friend who attends the same church as Shults, told The Dallas Morning News.

“She would tell you everything she has she’s been given from God, so she wants to share it,” Thompson said.

Shults has taught Sunday School at her church, performed volunteer work for at-risk children, and opened a cottage on her family’s property to victims of Hurricane Rita.

Her skillful, emergency landing on Tuesday, then, might be seen as just another act of charity.