Former Navy Pilot Praised For Handling Of Southwest Emergency
Southwest Airlines captain Tammie Jo Shults, 56, is being hailed as a hero for her deft and calm handling of an uncontained engine failure that damaged her Boeing 737 and claimed the life of passenger Jennifer Riordan on Tuesday. Throughout the emergency, Shults’ communications remained clear and direct as she diverted the plane to Philadelphia, worked out an approach plan with ATC and made sure emergency vehicles and medical transport were standing by.
A former U.S. Navy pilot, Shults flew F/A-18 Hornets with VAQ-34, a tactical electronic warfare squadron based in Point Mugu, California. She also served as an instructor on both the Hornet and the EA-6B Prowler. Shults joined the Navy after graduating from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, in 1983 with a degree in biology and agribusiness. According to a statement issued by the U.S. Navy, “Lt. Commander Shults was among the first cohort of women pilots to transition to tactical aircraft.”
Southwest has not yet released a statement naming the pilot in command of Flight 1380. Shults was identified by passengers onboard the flight and by photos taken on the plane.
Though each airline has their own proprietary checklists and quick reference handbook (QRH) for abnormal procedures, generally speaking, in the event of a rapid, uncontrollable cabin depressurization at altitude, the captain takes the controls, both pilots put on their oxygen masks, turn the passenger oxygen switch on and begin an emergency descent to a safe altitude (10,000 feet or the lowest safe altitude above that). Typically, the pilot monitoring talks to ATC during that phase. When that’s done, the pilot flying takes over the coms while the other checks in with the cabin crew.
For engine failures, common procedure is to disengage the autopilot, determine the source of the shutdown (fire, physical damage, etc.), either restart the engine (if safe and possible) or shut it down properly, and land the aircraft as soon as practical. As can be heard in recordings of ATC audio from the Southwest emergency, speed is adjusted as needed to mitigate any vibration or other issues caused by structural damage.