PHILADELPHIA (CBSNewYork/AP) — We’re beginning to learn more about the woman credited with landing a crippled Southwest Airlines plane in Philadelphia Tuesday.
Captain Tammie Jo Shults was at the controls of the Dallas-bound flight which took off from LaGuardia Airport.
Shults, a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, where she earned a dual-degree in biology and agribusiness.
According to friends, she was among the first female fighter pilots in the United States Navy.
Passengers say they’re just thankful she was at the helm when the plane’s engine blew. Joe Marcus calls her a “true hero.”
“The courage it took for her to take control of that situation and just save everyone on board is really just unbelievable,” Marcus added.
Alfred Tumlinson says Shults displayed “nerves of steel.”
“That lady, I applaud her,” he said. “I want to send her a Christmas card.”
Shults has not only been praised for her bravery, but also her compassion. Passengers say she spoke to them directly after the emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport to make sure everyone was okay.
Friends at Shults’ church in Boerne, Texas, about 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, said Wednesday they were not surprised after listening to the recording and reading media reports about her actions.
“Everybody is talking about Tammie Jo and how cool and calm she was in a crisis, and that’s just Tammie Jo,” Rachel Russo said. “That’s how she’s wired.”
Shults was commissioned into the Navy in 1985 and reached the rank of lieutenant commander, said Commander Ron Flanders, the spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego.
Women aviators were excluded from combat missions until the month after Shults got off active duty in March 1993, but Flanders said Shults flew during Operation Desert Storm trainings as an aggressor enemy pilot.
“While we at that time had an exclusion, she was in fact helping male pilots hone their skills,” Flanders said.
Veteran Navy combat aviator Linda Maloney said that she and Shults were among a small group of women who worked to see the combat exclusion rule repealed.
“Obviously it was frustrating,” said Maloney, who became among the first women to join a combat military flying squadron and was deployed to the Arabian Gulf. “We go through the same training that the guys do, and our hope was the Navy would allow us to fly in combat at some point.”
Shults was featured in Maloney’s book “Military Fly Moms” along with the stories and photos of 69 other women U.S. military veterans.
Russo and Staci Thompson, who has known Shults for about 20 years and was nanny to her two children when they were small, said she “loved” her military career but has alluded to frustrations and challenges that came with it.
They also said she embraced those experiences to make her stronger and guide her into a role as a mentor to young female pilots or girls thinking about a military career.
“She learned a lot about overcoming things as a woman in a male-dominated field,” Russo said.
Shults is from New Mexico, according to a personnel file from the Navy, and was a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness.
Shults’ brother-in-law, Gary Shults, said her husband also is a Southwest pilot and told him she made the emergency landing.
“She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack,” said Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio. “My brother says she’s the best pilot he knows.”
Officials say a woman, identified as Jennifer Riordan, was killed aboard the flight. She was a Wells Fargo bank executive and mother of two from Albuquerque, New Mexico who was visiting New York. Seven other victims suffered minor injuries.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)