By now, photos and articles outlining what happened aboard the crippled Southwest Airlines Flight 1980 have made their way around social media and news sites. However, many of the pieces are focused primarily on what went wrong with the flight, not the heroic efforts of the woman in charge and others that allowed a miraculous occurrence to happen.
Shortly after taking off from a busy New York City airport, the airplane lost one of its engines while flying 32,000 feet above the ground. Not only was there a dead engine to contend with, but the engine actually exploded, sending shrapnel shooting out of its encasement. This led to a blown out window which caused substantial injuries to one innocent woman, which ultimately took her life.
While even one life lost is tragic, considering there were 144 souls on board, losing only one life is amazing. So amazing in fact, that many claimed it had to include divine intervention.
Many on the crippled flight credited God for saving them. Amanda Bourman put the following comment about the incident on her Instagram account after the flight had been landed safely by pilot Tammie Jo Shults:
“The pilot Tammy Jo was amazing! She landed us safely in Philly” Bourman said. “God sent his angels to watch over us. I actually heard someone say ‘there is a God!”
Though God certainly did have a hand in helping, Tammie Jo Shults remained calm — allowing her training to help her guide the plane safely to the ground. Her experience as a U.S. Navy pilot, flying and landing F-18 fighter jets, going 150 miles per hour on aircraft carriers likely aided her as she faced a challenge she hoped she would never face as a commercial pilot.
Shults told air traffic control what was going on. She communicated her plan for an emergency landing and said there should be ambulances present when the plane touched down.
“So, we have a part of our aircraft missing so we’re going to need to slow down a bit,” she said during the incident.
Although this was on the largest stage, it was far from Shult’s first challenge. She was told she was unable to attend an aviation career day at her high school because “they did not accept girls.” Challenge accepted!
After attending medical school in Kansas, Shults applied to the Air Force and was turned down. Again, she didn’t give up, eventually being accepted by the U.S. Navy where she became one of the first female pilots to fly an F-18 fighter plane. Before she left the Navy, she even became an instructor where she helped others excel in their aviation careers. After leaving the Navy, she joined the Southwest team in 1993.
Shults identifies as a Christian, and appreciates the unique platform she enjoys as a pilot. She says the captain’s chair gives her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”
Even after her heroic efforts, Shults stood at the door greeting many of the 144 passengers as they disembarked off the flight. This time, she thanked them for their bravery. Although she along with God saved the lives of 143 people on board the seemingly doomed flight, Shults likely still recalls the loss of the one life she couldn’t save and feels heartbroken. After all, she too is a mom of two and wife just like Jennifer Riordan, the singular victim. However, she can be proud of the job she did remaining cool under intense pressure, ensuring even more families wouldn’t be without their loved ones.
Riordan was a 43-year old bank executive from Albuquerque traveling for business. She was partially sucked out of the plane, and pulled back in by heroic fellow passengers. Then, a nurse performed CPR in a desperate attempt to save Jennifer’s life. Unfortunately, Jennifer later died from her injuries.
Imagine the horrific outcome that could have taken place had fellow passengers and pilot Tammie Jo Shults not remained focused in the face of unreal adversity. Perhaps it truly was divine.
~ 1776 Christian