NEWS
18/04/2018 16:36 SAST | Updated 18/04/2018 16:36 SAST

Pilot Praised For 'Remarkable Calm' During Mid-Air Emergency

"So we have a part of the aircraft missing, so we’re going to need to slow down a bit," Tammie Jo Shults told air traffic controllers.

The pilot who safely landed a stricken Southwest Airlines flight in the U.S. after a passenger was almost sucked out of a window has been hailed a "hero" for the "calm" way she handled the horror scenario.

Tammie Jo Shults was one of the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. Navy and was accustomed to touching down F-18 jets at 240km/h on aircraft carriers, it was revealed in the hours after Tuesday's mid-air emergency.

These "nerves of steel" are apparent in the understated way Shults relayed the chaotic events unfolding at 9,900 metres to air traffic controllers, as she prepared to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport.

"So we have a part of the aircraft missing so we're going to need to slow down a bit," Shults calmly tells the controller.

After requesting a medical team meet the plane, Shults is asked if the plane is "physically on fire".

"No, it's not on fire, but part of it's missing," Shults says.

"They said there is a hole and someone went out," she adds.

The air traffic controller then relays the information back to her in disbelief: "Hmm.. you said there was a hole and someone went out?" he says, before details of her flight path are discussed.

When one of the two engines on the Boeing 737-700 blew and broke apart, a piece of shrapnel flew into a window, shattering the glass.

Passenger Jennifer Riordan was almost sucked out – and although she was pulled back inside the aircraft, she later died. Seven other passengers suffered minor injuries.

No it is not on fire but part of it is missing. They said there is a hole and someone went out" Pilot Tammie Jo Shults

Many of the 144 passengers onboard the flight destined for Dallas praised Shults after disembarking.

She has been compared to hero pilot Chelsey Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger, who safely landed a U.S. Airlines flight on the Hudson River in January 2009.

"The pilot Tammy Jo was so amazing! She landed us safely in Philly," Amanda Bourman wrote on Instagram. "God sent his angels to watch over us."

Passenger Alfred Tumlinson said: "She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her."

Passengers identified Shults as the pilot, something Southwest Airlines declined to do. Shults has not commented.

Shults might never have become a pilot, if she had not been so determined to fly from a young age.

She is quoted on fighter plane blog F-16.net saying she tried to attend an aviation career day at high school, but was told they did not accept girls.

A native of New Mexico, she applied to join the U.SA. Air Force after studying medicine. The Air Force would not let her take the test to become a pilot, but the U.S. Navy did.

She was one of the first female F-18 pilots and became an instructor before she left the Navy in 1993 and joined Southwest, according to the blog.

A Christian, married to a fellow pilot with two children, Shults said that sitting in the captain's chair gave her "the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight".

Authorities said the crew did what they were trained to do.

"They're in the simulator and practise emergency descents ... and losing an engine ... They did the job that professional airline pilots are trained to do," National Transportation Safety Board chairperson Robert Sumwalt said.