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Pilot who landed doomed jet switched flights

Tammie Jo Shults revealed her husband, Dean, was meant to be flying the Boeing 737-700 plane from New York to Dallas but had switched with her at the last minute so she could attend their son’s school athletics competition.

The 56-year-old US Navy veteran has been praised for maintaining her calm and landing Flight 1380 on 17 April after it lost an engine and a window got smashed by debris, partially sucking out passenger Jennifer Riordan, who later died.

She told ABC News’ 20/20 programme: “I traded for the trip with my husband. I’m not trading with him anymore!

Pilot who landed doomed jet switched flights
Pilot who landed doomed jet switched flights

“Dean, being the amazing husband he is, said, ‘You go to the track meet, I’ll switch and take your trip’. And so that’s why I was on the trip.”

Pilot Tammie Jo Schults with members of the cabin crew on the plane in Philadelphia
Image:Pilot Tammie Jo Schults with members of the cabin crew in Philadelphia

Mrs Shults said everything on the flight was normal until 20 minutes after take-off when they reached about 32,000ft.

She and her co-pilot, Darren Ellisor, a US Air Force veteran, then heard a “large bang”, which was the engine exploding, and rapid decompression as the oxygen masks fell and the plane tilted to one side.

“My first thoughts were actually, ‘Oh, here we go’,” she said.

“Just because it seems like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.

“We had to use hand signals, because it was loud, and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.”

Jennifer Riordan. Pic: Facebook
Image:Jennifer Riordan died from her injuries. Pic: Facebook

Despite the circumstances, the two pilots said they were never concerned the plane would not land safely.

“As long as you have altitude and ideas, you’re okay,” Mrs Shults said.

The two pilots said it took a while to find out a passenger had been fatally injured when a piece of the broken engine shattered a window.

After the explosion, Mr Ellisor flew the plane while Mrs Shults talked to air traffic controllers.

Investigators examine the damage to the plane's engine
Image:Investigators examine the damage to the plane’s engine

They quickly reduced altitude so passengers could breathe without oxygen masks.

Mrs Shults then took the controls for the emergency landing in Philadelphia.

After they landed safely, Mrs Shults walked through the aircraft, talking to all the passengers and staff to make sure they were alright.

“My mother had told me, ‘If I’m flying, I want to know what’s going on’. So I thought I would treat them like I would treat my own family,” she said.

Tammie Jo Shults during her time with the US Navy in 1993. Pic: Military Fly Moms
Image:Tammie Jo Shults during her time with the US Navy in 1993. Pic: Military Fly Moms

She revealed that she and the crew sent a card to Michael Riordan, the husband of the mother-of-two banking executive who died of her injuries from being sucked out of the plane.

The two pilots added that they will forever be bonded by the experience.

“It really was life-changing,” Mr Ellisor said.

“I mean, because it’s not something that we’ve ever had happen before, and you know, almost certainly won’t happen again because the chances are just too astronomical.

“So you have this surreal moment of going through it and working together to solve the problem.

“And then you’re left to pick up the pieces once we land and move on.

“And you know, that’s something we’ll do together as a team and as a family and I’m happy that she was with me.”

President Trump congratulates Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Schults for landing a plane in dangerous conditions
Image:President Trump congratulates Southwest Airlines Captain Tammie Jo Schults

US President Donald Trump welcomed the crew and passengers to the White House as he praised the “incredible job” Mrs Shults did in landing the plane safely.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, focusing on a fan blade which broke off.

Investigators say the blade showed signs of microscopic cracks caused by wear and tear. Federal officials ordered rapid inspections of the blades in older engines on Boeing 737 jets.

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