Southwest pilot praised by passengers for ‘nerves of steel’ during emergency

Things looked grim aboard the Southwest flight.

About 20 minutes after their flight departed from New York, passengers say they heard what sounded like explosions. The emergency from an engine failure appeared to have shattered a window on the plane. And what was most dire was that a female passenger was being sucked into the hole left by the broken glass.

In those tumultuous moments with oxygen masks dangling down the cabin and passengers screaming as they struggled to save the woman, none of the panic came through in the voice of a pilot on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380.

Tammie Jo Shults’ name has not been officially released by Southwest Airlines, but passengers who were on the flight have identified her as the pilot. Many of them are praising her for how she handled the emergency Tuesday.

In air traffic control audio, a female pilot spoke calmly and slowly, describing the emergency that was unraveling more than 30,000 feet in the air — all the while trying to land a damaged plane suffering engine failure.

“We have a part of the aircraft missing,” she told air traffic control.

As they spoke briefly about the emergency landing the plane would have to make in Philadelphia, she asked matter-of-factly: “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers.”

Air traffic control responded: “Injured passengers, OK. And is your airplane physically on fire?”

“No, it’s not on fire,” she replied. “But part of it is missing. They said there’s a hole and that someone went out.”

The air traffic controller responded: “Um, I’m sorry. You said there was a hole and somebody went out? Southwest 1380 it doesn’t matter we will work it out there.”

The plane went from an altitude of 31,684 feet to just about 10,000 feet in a little over five minutes time, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.

The plane descended precipitously, passenger Kristopher Johnson said, but the pilot regained control and informed passengers the flight was headed to Philadelphia.

Another passenger Marty Martinez said he heard, “Brace for landing. Brace for landing.”

It was a rough landing, he said, and things were still so chaotic that he wasn’t sure if the plane was going to crash.

“It was just all incredibly traumatic, and finally when we … came to a halt, of course, the entire crowd was (in) tears and people crying and we were just thankful to be alive,” Martinez said.

Kathy Farnan, a passenger said that the crew knew what they were doing and kept everyone calm.

“The pilot was a veteran of the Navy,” Farnan told CNN. “She had 32 years in — a woman. And she was very good.”

When it was all over, the pilot came out of the cabin and hugged everyone, telling them, “You all did a great job. You did a very good job,” said passenger Amy Serafini.

They not only praised her technical skills, but her professionalism after they landed.

Passengers told CNN affiliate WPVI that she walked through the aisle and talked with passengers to make sure they were all right.

Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson told WPVI: “She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. 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.”

Johnson posted a picture of the shredded engine and thanked the crew, calling them #angelsinthesky.

He also tweeted a photo of the crew, calling them heroes. “We lost an engine mid-flight and they guided back to Philly.”

The female passenger, whom witnesses said was pulled back in from the broken airplane window, died at a Philadelphia hospital, authorities said. Seven others were treated for minor injuries.

The plane had departed from New York, bound for Dallas.