- The pilots who landed April’s fatal Southwest Airlines flight have revealed what it was like in the cockpit in an interview with ABC News.
- Tammie Jo Shults and Darren Ellisor told ABC they relied on their instincts and remained focused as they guided the aircraft to a safe landing.
- While they had difficulty communicating at some points due to noise caused by an engine failure, neither doubted the flight would land safely.
- You can watch their full interview with ABC on Friday, May 11 at 10 p.m. ET.
While the passengers in the plane’s cabin have described the fear they experienced after one of the plane’s engines failed and sent shrapnel into the cabin, pilots Tammie Jo Shults and Darren Ellisor told ABC they relied on their instincts and remained focused as they guided the aircraft to a safe landing.
Southwest pilot relied on their instincts
“I don’t remember anything other than starting to think through what the plan is. And it worked well,” Shults said.
“Your instincts kick in, you know, stuff that you’ve prepared for, you know, ever since you started flying … and this training just takes over,” Ellisor, the flight’s first officer, said. “Was there some of that fear? There probably was deep down, but I, you know, pushed it away.”
Shults told ABC that her husband, Dean, who is also a Southwest pilot, was supposed to pilot the flight, but he swapped flights with Shults so she could attend their son’s track meet.
“I traded for the trip with my husband. I’m not trading with him anymore,” she said.
Shults and Eillisor told ABC the flight’s takeoff was uneventful. The engine failure came 20 minutes after they were in the air.
“We had a large bang and a rapid decompression. The aircraft yawed and banked to the left, a little over 40 degrees, and we had a very severe vibration from the number one engine that was shaking everything,” Ellisor said. “It was very disorienting to have all these things happen at once. And I actually couldn’t make heads or tails of what was going on, you know, looking at the engine instruments, trying to figure things out.”
They shared piloting duties throughout the flight
Shults, a former Navy pilot, and Ellisor, a former Air Force pilot, had met and worked together for the first time the day before. While they each had training they could rely on, the amount of noise that followed the engine failure made communication difficult.
“We had to use hand signals [and some yelling], because it was loud, and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons,” Shults told ABC.
Shults and Ellisor had split piloting duties throughout the flight. Due to Southwest protocol, Shults took control for the landing since she was the flight’s captain.
“At that point, we really just – because of the noise and different things – we had to be flexible and just use things that we had learned in previous training. And we kind of just split the cockpit and I did flying and some of the outside talking, and he took care of everything else,” she told ABC.
Shults and Ellisor learned that passengers had been injured and a window had blown out minutes before landing and switched from a long-approach landing to a short-approach landing so they could get to the ground more quickly.
They never doubted the flight would land safely
The two told ABC they never doubted the plane would land safely.
“As long as you have altitude and ideas, you’re okay. And we had both,” Shults said.
“Tammie Jo, she did a fantastic job, considering the condition of the aircraft and the situation it was. She made a great landing,” Ellisor said.
After the flight landed, Shults told ABC she walked into the cabin to check on the flight crew and passengers.
“My mother had told me, ‘If I’m flying, I want to know what’s going on.’ So I thought I would treat them like I would treat my own family,” she said.
Eillsor and Shults told their families about the flight, and while Ellisor’s wife expressed concern, Shults said she received a lighthearted response from her son, Marshall.
“When I told [Marshall] that I’d landed single engine in Philly safe on the ground, his immediate text back was, ‘That’s why Southwest gives you two,'” she told ABC.
The flight marked the first death in a US passenger airline accident since 2009
One passenger died on the flight and seven were injured. The passenger who was killed was identified as Jennifer Riordan, 43.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said the death was the first in a US passenger airline accident in over nine years. Before April, the most recent fatal accident came in February 2009 near Buffalo, New York, when an aircraft operated by the now-defunct regional airline Colgan Air crashed. Fifty people were killed in that crash – 49 people on the plane and one person on the ground.
The NTSB sent a team to Philadelphia to investigate the crash. The agency said a full investigation will take 12-15 months.
You can watch their full interview with ABC on Friday, May 11 at 10 p.m. ET.
Read More about the Southwest Incident:
- Investigators reveal what caused window to shatter on fatal Southwest Airlines flight
- Southwest reportedly gives passengers who were on fatal flight $5,000 check and a $1,000 travel voucher
- Southwest passenger’s death was the first in a US passenger airline accident in more than 9 years
- Southwest pilot to air traffic control before emergency landing: ‘There’s a hole and someone went out’
- Southwest passenger says there was ‘blood everywhere’ after ‘terrifying’ emergency landing
- Southwest passenger who died after major engine failure has been identified as a Wells Fargo VP and mother of two
- The type of engine that blew apart on Southwest plane was a growing concern for regulators
- The pilot who made the Southwest flight emergency landing is a former fighter pilot and one of the first women to fly an F-18
- Southwest passenger’s torso was sucked out of plane after engine explosion busted open aircraft window