Southwest Pilot Tammie Jo Shults Details Fatal Flight in First Interview Alongside Co-Pilot
Tammie Jo Shults — the former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy who safely landed Southwest Flight 1380 — speaks out for the first time in an interview with Martha Raddatz
In her first interview since piloting the Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 to a safe landing, Tammie Jo Shults details her initial reaction to the engine failure that lead to the death of one passenger.
Shults appears alongside co-pilot Darren Ellisor in Friday’s upcoming episode of 20/20, with both discussing the April 17 flight from New York City toward Dallas, Texas.
“We were passing through about 32 thousand feet when we heard a large bang and a rapid decompression,” recalls Ellisor in a clip from the sit-down. “The aircraft yawed and banked to the left a little over 40 degrees and we had a very severe vibration from the number one engine. There was shaking, everything. And that all kinda happened all at once.”
Says Shults, “My first thoughts were actually, ‘Oh, here we go’ — just because it seemed like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done.”
“But really, Darren is just very easy to communicate with and we had to use hand signals because it was loud and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons,” she details.
Shults — a former fighter pilot with the U.S. Navy — was flying the plane that had 149 people onboard when one of the engines exploded about 20 minutes into the flight.
The plane made an emergency landing in Philadelphia, and one passenger, Jennifer Riordan, a New Mexico bank executive and mother of two, was later pronounced dead. Riordan was sitting next to the window that was hit by shrapnel after the plane’s engine exploded.
It is understood that Riordan was critically injured as she was sucked out the window. While other passengers were able to pull her back into the aircraft, witnesses reported that she was in cardiac arrest as passengers attempted to revive her for about 20 minutes until the plane made an emergency landing.
Hollie Mackey — who was seated in the same row as Riordan — told PEOPLE she attempted to pull her back into the plane.
“It was more of a helpless feeling than anything else,” Mackey said. “Because with the altitude and that air pressure at that time, we were not physically able to move her at all.”
She added, “We tried yelling for help. We tried, you just couldn’t hear anything. Everybody was just communicating with their eyes because nobody could really hear anything initially.”
Eventually, Mackey said two men were able to leave their seats and get Riordan back in the plane.
Of Shults’ landing, Mackey told PEOPLE, “It appeared that the pilot had it under control, and I wasn’t nervous until they told us to brace for landing, then I got really nervous again because I was not buckled in.”
“It was softer than most of the landings I’ve been in that are not emergency landings…Then I felt okay. That’s when people around us started crying, and getting very emotional.”
Raddatz full interview with Shults and Ellisor, as well as those with several passengers and Riordan’s husband, Michael Riordan, will air on 20/20, Friday, May 11, at 10 PM E.T. on ABC.