On April 17th, something went profoundly wrong with a Southwest flight bound from New York City to Dallas. Southwest 1380—a flight with 149 people—was cruising through the skies when a disintegrating engine sent out shrapnel that came back and hit the plane. A piece of the shrapnel hit a window, shattering it and sucking a woman halfway out of the plane.
Two men sprung into action and pulled the woman back into the plane. Others rushed forward to try to block the hole in the plane window. Meanwhile, passengers performed CPR on the woman, Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old mother of two from Albuquerque. Tragically, they were unable to save her life, making her the first person to die while-inflight in the 51 years since Southwest Airlines opened.
The death toll could have been so much higher if it hadn't been for the "nerves of steel" of the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults. As oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling, smoke streamed out of vents, and crew tried to shout instructions over the sound of wind rushing into the plane at 500 mph, the former Navy fighter pilot remained calm. She piloted the plane as it dropped 20,000 feet in a mere five minutes.
As she headed for the Philadelphia airport to make an emergency landing, Shults, who was one of the first women to fly a fighter jet in the U.S. Military, matter-of-factly informed air traffic controllers that the aircraft was now a single-engine plane and that they were going to need to land.
“We have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she’s heard saying in audio transmissions before adding, "Could you have medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers."
Air traffic controllers then asked her if the plane was on fire. Her answer took them aback.
“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Shults said, pausing for a moment. “They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out.”
Baffled, the tower replied, "Um, I'm sorry, you said there was a hole and somebody went out?” before adding, “Southwest 1380, it doesn't matter. We will work it out there.”
Soon Shults had successfully made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, sparing the lives of 148 people. NBC says the death toll would have been much higher had it not been for her quick thinking.
"Most of us, when that engine blew, I think we were pretty much going, 'Well, this just might be it,'" said passenger Peggy Phillips, from Brandon, Texas. "To get us down with no hydraulics and a blown engine and land us safely is nothing short of miraculous to me. She's a hero, for sure."
Shults, who graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, didn't just have quick thinking and experience on her side. She's also a woman of faith.
Her mother-in-law, Virginia Shults told The Washington Post that Tammie Jo is a "devout Christian." She also told the paper that she believes Shults' faith allowed her to stay calm as she made the difficult emergency landing.
“I know God was with her, and I know she was talking to God,” Virginia Shults said.
MidAmerica Nazarene's director of alumni relations, Kevin Garber, also spoke to Shults' faith. She traveled back to the college last spring to speak to students, and he described her as a "solid woman of faith" and "very down-to-earth."
Passengers are thanking Shults for saving their lives.
“She has nerves of steel,” one passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, told the Associated Press. “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.”
Another passenger, Diana McBride Self, thanked Shults on Facebook for her “guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation.” She added that Shults “came back to speak to each of us personally.”
In other news, please join us in praying for the Bush family after Barbara Bush passed away on Tuesday. Her husband, the 41st President of the United States, issued a faith-filled statement on Wednesday.