The Pilot of Southwest Flight 1380 Wasn’t Even Supposed to Be On it

May 10, 2018

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Captain Tammie Jo Shults, who safely landed Southwest’s Flight 1380 that had an engine explode, killing one passenger, wasn’t originally scheduled to pilot the flight.

Her husband was.

But, she decided to switch with him so he could go to their son’s track meet.

“I’m not trading with him anymore,” Shults quipped in a recently released clip of an ABC News interview that will air Friday night. Shults and her first officer on the flight, Darren Ellisor, spoke out for the first time to ABC’s “20/20.”

The former Air Force (Ellisor) and Navy (Shults) pilots recounted the bewildering chain of events after a fan blade broke off one of the engines of Boeing 737-700, causing the engine to explode and sending shrapnel crashing through a passenger’s window. That passenger, Jennifer Riordan, was almost sucked out of the plane when the cabin underwent rapid depressurization, and she later died from her injuries.

When the incident occurred, just as the plane reached 32,000 feet, the pilots said they felt the aircraft shaking and knew something was wrong, but their flight instruments weren’t registering any issues. Their first thought was that maybe it was an engine seizure. But then, both the cabin and cockpit rapidly depressurized — because of the gaping window — and their oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling.

“The seizure of the aircraft would not cause a rapid decompression, so we knew that something extraordinary had happened pretty quickly,” Shults said.

Then the aircraft swerved sharply left, and alarms and warning bells began ringing on the flight instruments. The alert sounds were so loud the two pilots had to scream to each other and eventually used hand signals to communicate amid the cockpit cacophony.

“And that all kind of happened all at once,” Ellisor said. Ellisor jumped to take over the controls first, while Shults maintained communication with Air Traffic Control.

“Darren handled it beautifully,” Shults said, while noting that Ellisor did not “force the aircraft to stay on altitude and return to that heading, which is kind of a normal pilot reaction, or can be, to get back on course.” The pair had to descend the plane thousands of feet so passengers could breathe safely without a mask.

Shults eventually took the controls back and was planning for a longer descent into Philadelphia (PHL). But then, flight attendants alerted the cockpit that Riordan was gravely injured. “That’s when we decided it was time to go land,” Ellisor recounted.

All told, the pilots were able to safely land the aircraft about 20 minutes after the engine exploded.

H/T: The New York Times

Featured image by AP Photo/Corey Perrine.

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