It’s hard to imagine the horror of being inside of a plane that has just lost one engine in an explosion, but that’s just the situation that 149 passengers and crew found themselves in yesterday, as Southwest flight 1380 went down to an emergency landing Philadelphia. 

It’s even harder to imagine being inside of the cockpit, knowing that those 149 lives were depending on you to think clearly and act courageously. That’s exactly what pilot Tammie Jo Shults did. Thanks to her incredible calm and grace, all but one passenger – who tragically suffered fatal injuries due to the engine explosion – were able to return to the ground safely in the midst of a dire emergency. 

Our hearts go out to the family of this lost passenger, Jennifer Riordan. 

It was only because of the grace and quiet strength of Tammie Jo Shults that yesterday’s tragic loss was limited to one life.

Shults has been praised by everyone – passengers, family members, crew, and ATC officers – for her response to the engine explosion. She calmly worked to explain her situation and guide her aircraft to a safe landing, even with a hole in the plane, injured passengers, and of course, only one remaining engine. 

Shults has an amazing life story: She was one of the first women to pilot an F/A-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy (after the Air Force “wasn’t interested” in her).  She broke many barriers throughout her military career. Even as a commercial pilot she represents a small minority who are women (according to the FAA, only 7 percent!)

Shults displayed grace and resolve in a very high-pressure situation, saving the lives of 148 people. The fighter pilot (and mom) has shown many times that she is willing and able to break barriers and achieve great things. She is a woman who deserves to be celebrated and championed for her bravery, her service, and her heroism.