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Pilot Tammie Jo Shults showed 'nerves of steel' during emergency Southwest landing

Former Navy flier Tammie Jo Shults is the pilot with "nerves of steel" who successfully landed Southwest flight 1380 during Tuesday's dramatic emergency.

The twin-engine Boeing 737 that left New York with 149 people board was hit by shrapnel that smashed a window and damaged the fuselage, killing a passenger and injuring seven others, authorities said. The pilot took the plane into a rapid descent as passengers using oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling braced for impact.

Shults was among the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. military, according to friends and the alumni group at Shults' alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene.

Shults was a 1983 graduate of the university in Olathe, Kansas, where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness, Carol Best, a university spokeswoman, told The Kansas City Star.

About 20 minutes after the flight departed from New York, passengers say they heard what sounded like explosions. Debris from an engine failure broke open a plane window. And what was most dire was a female passenger being sucked into the hole where the window had been.

In an instant, Captain Shults found herself in a situation most pilots face only during training: having to land a plane after an engine goes out.

For the next 40 minutes, she displayed what one passenger later called “nerves of steel,” maneuvering the plane, which had been on its way from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field, toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

With oxygen masks dangling down and passengers screaming as they struggled to save the woman, the pilot's voice conveyed none of the panic rampant aboard Southwest Flight 1380.

In air traffic control audio, Shults spoke calmly and slowly, describing the emergency unfolding more than 30,000 feet in the air -- all the while trying to land a plane with engine failure.

"We have a part of the aircraft missing," she told air traffic control.

Speaking briefly about the emergency landing the plane would have to make in Philadelphia, she asked matter-of-factly: "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?"

At 11:20 a.m., Captain Shults steered the plane, a two-engine Boeing 737, to a smooth landing on Runway 27L at Philadelphia International Airport. The left engine looked like it had been ripped apart.

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