Captain Replaced Hubby on Deadly Southwest Flight

Shift change was to allow Tammie Jo Shults to attend son's track meet
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 11, 2018 7:00 AM CDT
Captain of Deadly Flight Was on It Because of Her Son
President Donald Trump looks to pilot Tammie Jo Shults, second from left, and first officer Darren Ellisor, left, as he meets with crew and passengers of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 on May 1, 2018.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Tammie Jo Shults, the heroic ex-Navy pilot who successfully landed a Southwest plane with a shattered engine, wasn't supposed to be on the flight. Shults' husband, also a pilot, had been scheduled to captain Flight 1380 on April 17 but offered to switch with Shults so she could attend their son's track meet. "I'm not trading with him anymore," Shults, 56, tells ABC News in a 20/20 interview airing Friday. Recalling a loud bang and sudden decompression at 32,000 feet, 20 minutes after the twin-engine Boeing 737-700 left New York's LaGuardia Airport, Shults says she and First Officer Darren Ellisor knew "something extraordinary had happened pretty quickly." But temporarily unaware a broken fan blade had ripped apart the plane's left engine and broken a window, "I don't remember anything other than starting to think through what the plan is. And it worked well."

As Shults handled communications, Ellisor, a 44-year-old former Air Force pilot, flew the plane to an altitude with richer oxygen. The pair, who'd known each other only a day, shouted and used hand signals to be heard over the deafening noise and through oxygen masks they were forced to put on. Shults then took over the controls for an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport, a process that was sped up (they traded a planned long-approach landing for a short one) as the pilots learned of injured passengers, including Jennifer Riordan, who'd later die after being partially sucked out of the broken window, reports the New York Times. "We just took the knowledge that we had" and "pooled it," says a modest Shults. Now "we'll be in touch the rest of our lives," she says of Ellisor. (More Southwest Airlines stories.)

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