It's pretty much every airline passenger's worst nightmare: on Tuesday morning Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 departed New York City's LaGuardia Airport, but less than half an hour later, the left engine suddenly exploded, sending shrapnel through a passenger window, and leaving one woman dead after she'd been partially sucked out of the resulting hole. As horrific as it sounds though, the situation could have actually been much worse. Who is Tammie Jo Shults? Twitter is calling the Southwest pilot a hero after she managed to not only land the plane safely in Philadelphia, but somehow also managed to remain completely cool, calm, and collected throughout it all, in a way that honestly seems straight up superhuman.
Shults had been flying the plane enroute to Dallas with 144 passengers on board, and likely had no reason whatsoever to think it would be anything other than a routine flight. But passenger Marty Martinez told CNN that about 20 minutes after takeoff, there was "a loud boom" that jolted the plane, and oxygen masks quickly dropped. As the plane began to drop, Martinez said that passengers were "going crazy, and yelling and screaming," yet a recording of Shults' call to air traffic control showed that the former U.S. Navy fighter pilot — and one of the first women to ever fly an F/A-18 Hornet, according to The Washington Post — remained entirely composed.
In an audio clip of Shults' communication with air traffic control as she prepared for the emergency landing, she could be heard asking for EMS services to meet the plane on the runway to assist the injured passengers on board. When the controller then asked if the airplane was physically on fire, Shults' calmly replied, "No, it's not on fire, but part of it's missing. They said there's a hole and someone went out."
Martinez explained to CNN that a woman sitting two rows away from him — who has since been identified as 43-year-old New Mexico mother Jennifer Riordan — was quickly pulled out of the window after a piece of the engine flew off and struck a hole in her window. Nearby passengers struggled to pull her back in, and a nurse onboard performed CPR on Riordan for the duration of the flight, though she later died in hospital as a result of her injuries, according to ABC 7 News.
Following the emergency landing, a number of the remaining passengers spoke out to praise Shults' literally life-saving bravery and impressive skill. Passenger Alfred Tumlinson said Shults had "nerves of steel," according to The Kansas City Star, while passenger Eric Zilbert noted that after the engine blew, "the plane was steady as a rock," and that, despite the chaos and fear onboard, he "didn't have any fear that [the plane] was out of control." In a Facebook post later that day, Diana McBride Self wrote that Shults' "grace and knowledge under pressure were remarkable," and that she even "came through the plane personally to check on us after she landed our crippled airplane ... We were truly all in amazing hands."
Unsurprisingly, it didn't take long for Shults' name to begin trending on social media, with many taking to Twitter to share their admiration:
But in addition to her actions Tuesday, Shults is also being lauded for what appears to be an entire career of incredible, barrier-breaking accomplishments as a female military pilot in an overwhelming male-dominated field:
And, naturally, people are hoping she'll end up getting immortalized by Hollywood, Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger-style:
In other words, she's basically the definition of the type of pilot everyone hopes to have whenever they have to get on a plane:
As unbelievably tragic and scary as it is that Riordan died, Shults' ability to stay calm and do exactly what she was trained to do in an emergency meant that at least the remaining passengers and all the crew members aboard were able to go home to their loved ones that day. And while it's likely not a situation Shults ever hoped to be put in, the love she's receiving on social media Wednesday is incredibly well-deserved.