A former U.S. Navy fighter pilot is being hailed as an American hero after she safely landed a passenger jet that sustained catastrophic engine failure high in the skies over the eastern United States.
Tammie Jo Shults, the pilot on Tuesday's Southwest Airlines flight from New York to Dallas, was flying uneventfully at more than 9,600 meters when the left engine on a Boeing 737 aircraft suddenly blew apart, with shrapnel shattering a window, partially sucking one woman out of the plane. Other passengers were able to pull the woman back into the jet, but she later died, the first casualty in a U.S. commercial aviation accident in nine years.
One passenger, Diana McBride Self, posted a picture of Shults on Facebook, saying, "This is a true American Hero. A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew."
On Instagram, passenger Amanda Bourman posted a picture of the ruptured engine, saying, "The pilot, Tammy Jo was so amazing!"
As the incident unfolded, Shults, who once helped train ship crews to respond to Soviet missile threats, told an air traffic controller, "We have a part of the aircraft missing."
While descending more than 6,600 meters in five minutes in advance of an emergency landing in Philadelphia, Shults asked the controller, "Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway, as well? We've got injured passengers."
Air traffic control responded: "Injured passengers, OK. And is your airplane physically on fire?"
"No, it's not on fire," she responded, "But part of it is missing. They said there's a hole and that someone went out."
One passenger told CNN, "All of a sudden, we heard this loud bang, rattling. It felt like one of the engines went out. The oxygen masks dropped. It just shredded the left-side engine completely. It was scary."
Hours later, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said investigators found that one of the left engine's 24 fan blades was missing.
"This fan blade was broken right at the hub, and our preliminary examination of this was there is evidence of metal fatigue where the blade separated," he said. "We believe there were parts coming out of this engine."
The woman killed in the accident was identified as Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old bank executive and mother of two children from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Seven others, among the 149 aboard the flight, were slightly injured.
Investigators have the airliner's flight data recorders and will likely have to take the damaged engine apart to examine it.
The plane was equipped with a CFM 56-7B engine. CFM International and the Federal Aviation Administration recommended airlines inspect fan blades on such engines after a report of a fan blade breaking off on a flight last year.
It is unclear if the failed engine on Flight 1380 was covered by the FAA's airworthiness directive.