Captain Tammie Jo Shults, the Southwest pilot who safely landed the plane that suffered a midair engine explosion April 17, resulting in the death of one passenger, has said her life hasn’t been the same since the flight.
She also revealed that an aviation university, which tried to recreate the incident with a flight simulator, was unable to land in the same fashion as she and her co-pilot.
Shults talked about the impact of that day at her first public speaking appearance Tuesday, where she gave the keynote address — “Leading in Uncertain Times” — at the National Retail Federation's annual loss prevention conference in Grapevine, Texas.
The hero pilot, who has been praised for her calm demeanor during the emergency landing of Flight 1380 in Philadelphia, was piloting the Boeing 737 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Dallas’ Love Field when the jet blew an engine and lost a window at 32,000 feet.
It was later revealed that Shults wasn’t even supposed to be on the flight that day, but had traded routes with her husband, who’s also a Southwest pilot, so she could attend their son’s track meet.
Shults’ co-pilot, Darren Ellisor, was flying the plane when they first heard the explosion, and the aircraft quickly lost pressure and tilted about 40 degrees to one side. After putting on their oxygen masks, Shults took over and Ellisor began communicating with the other crew members, the Dallas Business Journal reports.
During her keynote, Shults revealed what it was like to be on the plane as it experienced rapid depressurization, comparing the feeling to a balloon when the air rapidly escapes. "We practice emergency procedures all the time for that. But, physically having your air sucked out of your lungs is not something that you practice," she said, per the Journal.
While the 56-year-old pilot has decades of experience in aviation, serving as one of the first female fighter pilots in U.S. military history and later joining Southwest in 1993, she largely credits God to helping her land Flight 1380 that day.
"The EMT said, 'You don't even have an elevated heart rate,' That's not within my grasp. I can control my voice sometimes, but that's one of those things that's God-given," Shults said.
She also revealed in her speech that an aviation university recreated the conditions of that flight using a simulator, but they were unable to land the plane without utilizing the flight automation program aboard the virtual aircraft, according to the Journal.
"Darren and I didn't use any flight automation that day," Shults said. "While we're a good team, I really don't think that we're that good. We had help that day."
She also said she’s been given an upgraded parking spot: The pilot, who flies a small plane to work at Love Field from her home in Boerne, Texas, now parks at the Southwest maintenance hangar.
Shults recently got back into the cockpit for the first time since the accident, flying from Houston to Puerto Vallarta.
“I told my husband: 'I need to go fly. I need a slice of normal,'" she said, per Dallas News.
However, during the flight Shults remained anonymous, asking the crew not to announce her name until they landed. At that point, her identity was revealed and she took pictures with the passengers.
"I was really excited, to be honest," Shults said about her first flight back. "I love flying," Shults said, per the Journal.