Captain Tammie Jo Shults and First Officer Darren Ellisor revealed they “pushed fear" away in landing fatal flight 1380 in their first public interview since the harrowing April 17 incident that left one passenger dead.
On May 11, the pair’s appearance on ABC’s “20/20” aired, in which they revealed new details from the cockpit during the tragic flight from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas’ Love Field. Forced to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport after an engine exploded mid-air, Shults and Ellisor had to act quickly to save the 149 people on board, People reports.
“My first thoughts were actually, ‘Oh, here we go’ — just because it seemed like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done,” 56-year-old Navy veteran Shults recalled. “But really, Darren is just very easy to communicate with and we had to use hand signals because it was loud and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.”
“Your instincts kick in, you know, stuff that you’ve prepared for, you know, ever since you started flying … and this training just takes over,” 44-year-old Airforce veteran Ellisor agreed. “Was there some of that fear? There probably was deep down, but I, you know, pushed it away.”
Shults also divulged that she wasn’t wasn't supposed to be on the flight. She had traded shifts with her husband, Dean, who also works as a Southwest pilot, so that she could attend their 18-year-old sons’ track meet.
Twenty minutes after departing, Ellisor said the Boeing 737 shifted left when the aircraft’s left side engine malfunctioned and exploded, blasting shrapnel and debris into the aircraft’s fuselage. The subsequent chaos “all kinda happened at once,” as smoke billowed from the wing.
Both pilots donned oxygen masks as they worked to land the plane.
“Darren handled it beautifully and not trying to force the aircraft to stay on altitude and return to that heading, which is kind of a normal pilot reaction, or can be to get back on course,” Shults said.
She also shared that the Southwest crew sent a card to the family of passenger Jennifer Riordan, who died after she partially sucked out of an airplane window.
“Hearing some of the things that her husband has said subsequently that just makes us think what a sweet and rich family they are. We wanted to be respectful and let them have some time to mourn without us being public,” Shults said.
In the wake of the terrifying experience, Shults and Ellisor say they'll be friends for life. The pair had only met the day prior to piloting flight 1380, ABC reports.
“Going through something like this, it certainly galvanizes your personalities together and your friendship. I mean, we’ll be in touch the rest of our lives,” Shults mused. “Even though he’s going to upgrade and be captain.”