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Listen to how Tammie Jo Shults, hero pilot of Southwest 1380, kept calm and saved her passengers

Former fighter pilot remained totally calm as she told air traffic control 'We have part of the aircraft missing … There is a hole and, um, someone went out'

Adam Lusher
Thursday 19 April 2018 14:48 BST
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'I'm sorry, there's a hole and someone went out?': Audio released from Southwest Airlines emergency landing after explosion

Audio of the Southwest Airlines incident has emerged, showing how pilot Tammie Jo Shults remained completely calm after an engine exploded and a woman passenger was nearly sucked out of the plane.

Former fighter pilot Ms Shults has been hailed a hero for the way she nursed Flight 1380 to an emergency landing while calmly telling air traffic control: “We have part of the aircraft missing … There is a hole and, um, someone went out.”

It is believed that one woman, Jennifer Riordan, died in the initial engine explosion, which sent shrapnel smashing into the Boeing 737-700, but Ms Shults, whose experience includes being one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy, was able to get all the other passengers to safety.

After diverting the New York–Dallas flight towards Philadelphia International Airport, Ms Shults, 56, can be heard calmly informing air traffic control: “Actually, we are no fire now, but we are single engine.”

“We have got part of the aircraft missing,” she adds shortly afterwards, “So we are going to need to slow down a bit.”

With more apparent urgency in his voice than that of the pilot, the air traffic controller tells Ms Shults: “Speed is at your discretion”.

“OK,” says Ms Shults. “Can you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well. We have got … err injured passengers.”

An air traffic controller replies: “Injured passengers, OK, and is your airplane physically on fire?”

“No,” Ms Shults replies, “It’s not on fire, but part of it is missing. They said there is a hole and, um, someone went out.”

With audible amazement creeping into his voice, the air traffic controller replies: “I’m sorry? You said there is a hole and someone went out?”

He then collects himself and tells Ms Shults: “Southwest 1380 it doesn’t matter, we’ll work it out there. So the airport’s off to your right.”

About a minute later, Ms Shults executes a succesful emergency landing and the five-minute audio ends with her politely telling air traffic control: “Thank you, we are going to stop right here by the fire trucks. Thank you, guys, for the help.”

Ms Shults’ unwavering calm was in defiance of the terrifying scenes on board the jet.

Passenger Marty Martinez, who posted a video showing passengers with oxygen masks as the plane descended, told CBS News that "there was blood everywhere".

"First there was an explosion, and then, almost immediately, the oxygen masks came down and probably within a matter of 10 seconds the engine hit a window and busted it wide open," Mr Martinez continued.

It is believed the engine on the plane’s left side threw off shrapnel when it blew apart, shattering a window and causing rapid cabin depressurization that nearly pulled a female passenger through the hole.

“A woman was partially, was drawn out of the plane and pulled back in by other passengers,” Todd Bauer, whose daughter was on the flight, told the NBC affiliate in Philadelphia.

Officials say that the descent — from the time of the initial failure west of Philadelphia until it landed at the airport, southeast of the city's downtown — happened in "a fairly rapid manner", and information provided by FlightRadar24 showed the plane dropped from 30,000 feet to 13,000 feet in five minutes. The whole descent took about 15 minutes.

It was reported that the passenger who died, Jennifer Riordan, was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She was reportedly on the way back from a New York business trip, where she had sent a tweet on Monday showing the view from her hotel in Midtown Manhattan with the caption: “Great business stay.” Her Facebook page shows she was married with two children.

After the emergency landing ensured the survival of everyone else on board, Ms Shults was unofficially identified by passengers, rather than by Southwest Airlines.

She is now being compared to Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, the pilot who in 2009 successfully landed a stricken US Airways passenger jet on the Hudson River, and whose life saving feat was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks.

Many of Flight 1380’s passengers took to social media to praise her, with one, Amanda Bourman, saying: “The pilot Tammy Jo was so amazing! She landed us safely in Philly.

“God sent his angels to watch over us.”

And yet, Ms Shults, originally from New Mexico, has previously revealed that she might never have become a pilot.

She was quoted on fighter plane blog F-16.net saying she tried to attend an aviation career day at high school but was told they did not accept girls.

Ms Shults, however, never lost the urge to fly and, after studying medicine in Kansas, applied to the US Air Force. It would not let her take the test to become a pilot, but the US Navy did.

She was one of the first female F-18 pilots and became an instructor before she left the Navy in 1993 and joined Southwest, according to the blog.

A Christian, who is married to a fellow pilot and has two children, Ms Shults said that sitting in the captain’s chair gave her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”

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