Tammie Jo Shults was in the cockpit of a Southwest Airlines plane when one of its engines blew up in mid-air during its journey from New York to Dallas on Tuesday, which resulted in the death of a woman who was partially sucked out of a window.
But the drama at 32,000ft could have been worse, as more than 140 desperate passengers scrambled for their oxygen masks and braced for impact as the plane descended rapidly towards the airport.
Amid the panic, which resulted in seven people suffering minor injuries, Ms Shults calmly told air traffic control: “So we have part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit.”
Asked if the plane was on fire, she said: “Not on fire but part of it is missing. They said there’s a hole and someone went out. Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well. We’ve got injured passengers.”
Ms Shults has been heralded as “awesome” for her role in ensuring the plane touched down, and it turns out she may have been able to call on her experience of flying military jets to cope with the pressure.
The 56-year-old was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US navy, where she handled F-18 jets later used in the Gulf War and Iraq War.
In a forum post dating back to 2006 on fighter jet community site F-16.net, Ms Shults is said to have dreamed of a career in the skies from a young age.
She tried to attend an aviation career day at her high school, only to be told they did not accept girls.
Despite going on to pursue a degree in medicine in Kansas, her desire to fly never went away and she applied to the air force after graduation. She was rejected, but found the navy more welcoming.
“Shults became one of the first female fighter pilots in the history of the US navy and one of the first women to fly F-18s,” the forum post reads.
“She landed her fighter plane on boats at 150mph and eventually became an instructor. Although she wasn’t allowed to fly in combat, she did fly as an aggressor pilot.”
Following a successful career, the New Mexico native resigned in 1993 and joined Southwest Airlines along with her husband.
The airline has declined to name any of the crew from the Boeing 737 that made the emergency landing in Philadelphia, but Ms Shults has come in for plenty of praise from grateful passengers on social media.
Instagram user Amanda Bourman and tweeter Cassie Adams both hailed her as “amazing”.
“Thank you to the incredible pilot at @SouthwestAir who got a plane without an engine to the ground as quickly and safely as possible,” she said.
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Passenger Alfred Tumlinson added: “She has 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.
“She was awesome.”