A pilot who safely landed a Southwest Airlines passenger plane after a jet engine ripped apart mid-air has been praised as a hero by passengers.
Tammie Jo Shults captained Flight 1380 to a Philadelphia airport in Tuesday’s emergency, according to passengers.
Shrapnel from the shredded engine smashed a window and nearly sucked a passenger out of the jet. That woman, a mother-of-two, later died.
Capt Shults served in the US Navy for 10 years and flew fighter jets.
A cause has yet to be determined, but officials said an early review of the incident found evidence of metal fatigue where a fan blade had broken off, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The woman who died was Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old executive for Wells Fargo bank from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Other passengers pulled her back in as she was almost sucked out of the shattered window, and tried CPR, but to no avail.
Seven other passengers were slightly injured.
Those aboard the New York-to-Dallas flight carrying 149 people lauded Capt Shults as an “American Hero” who prevented a much larger tragedy.
Who is the pilot?
Capt Shults has not been officially named by Southwest Airlines, but passengers who were on the flight have identified her as the pilot. Her husband has also confirmed to the Associated Press that she was at the controls of the plane.
She was among the first cohort of female fighter pilots to transition to tactical aircraft, the US Navy has confirmed.
The New Mexico native graduated with university degrees in biology and agribusiness before joining the military.
According to the US Navy, she left active service in 1993 after achieving the rank of lieutenant commander.
Her husband is also a pilot for Southwest, says a relative.
On social media, some compared the mother-of-two with Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who glided a US Airways plane into New York’s main waterway in 2009 in what became known as “The Miracle on the Hudson”.
What are passengers saying?
Passenger Alfred Tumlinson of Corpus Christi, Texas, praised the pilot for her “nerves of steel”.
“That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card – I’m going to tell you that – with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground,” he told the Associated Press.
Diana McBride Self, who was also on the flight, posted a photo on Facebook of Capt Shults as she met passengers after the plane was back on the ground.
“Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally. This is a true American Hero,” she wrote.
“A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation.”
Our engine that blew out at 38000 ft. A window blew out, a man saved us all as he jumped to cover the window. Unfortunately we lost a passenger to a heart attack. The pilot, Tammy Jo was so amazing! She landed us safely in Philly. God sent his angels to watch over us. I actually heard someone say, there is a God!! #southwest #flight1380 #godsenthisangels #anotherdayofgrace
A post shared by Amanda Bourman (@abourman) on Apr 17, 2018 at 9:21am PDT
End of Instagram post by abourman
About 20 minutes after the twin-engine Boeing 737 took off shrapnel pierced the passenger compartment causing the plane to lose pressure and rapidly drop.
With oxygen masks over their mouths, passengers screamed and braced for impact.
“Southwest 1380, we’re single engine,” the pilot radioed to air traffic control.
“We have part of the aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she said, adding that some passengers had been hurt.
“Injured passengers, okay, and is your airplane physically on fire?” asks a male voice in the tower, according to a recording released by officials.
“No, it’s not on fire, but part of it’s missing,” Capt Shults said.
“They said there’s a hole, and uh, someone went out,” she calmly says.
What have investigators said?
The Chairman of the NTSB said early reports indicate that one of the engine’s 24 fan blades broke off due to metal fatigue while spinning at high speed.
“This fan blade was broken right at the hub. There is evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated,” Robert Sumwalt told reporters on Wednesday.
A casing on the engine is meant to contain any parts that come loose, but due to the speed, the metal was able to penetrate the shell, he added.
A piece was discovered about 60 miles (97km) northwest of Philadelphia on Tuesday, according to Mr Sumwalt.
Meanwhile, other airlines have been urged to inspect the engines of their Boeing 737 planes.
The engine was developed by French-US joint venture CFM International. French officials have said they are travelling to the US to aid in the investigation.
CFM say more than 8,000 of those engines are currently in use for Boeing 737 planes.