New York (AFP) – The hero US pilot who landed a stricken Southwest Airlines passenger jet which lost an engine mid-flight was not even supposed to be on the plane — she has revealed her husband was originally scheduled to man the controls.
In her first television interview since the April 17 incident, Tammie Jo Shults told ABC News that her husband had switched with her at the last minute so she could attend their son’s school athletics competition.
The 56-year-old US Navy veteran’s husband Dean, also a Southwest pilot, was originally supposed to be the captain on Flight 1380 from New York to Dallas that day.
“I traded for the trip with my husband. I’m not trading with him anymore,” Shults laughed in an interview with ABC News’ “20/20,” excerpts of which were released Thursday.
“Dean, being the amazing husband he is, said, ‘You go to the track meet, I’ll switch and take your trip.’ And so that’s why I was on the trip,” she said in the interview, which will air in full on Friday.
Shults said everything was normal until the plane reached about 32,000 feet, when she and her co-pilot heard a “large bang” — the engine exploding — and rapid decompression began.
“My first thoughts were actually, ‘Oh, here we go.’ Just because it seems like a flashback to some of the Navy flying that we had done,” Shults said.
“We had to use hand signals, because it was loud, and it was just hard to communicate for a lot of different reasons.”
The pilots donned oxygen masks and after the safe landing, Shults greeted passengers personally as they filed out.
“My mother had told me, ‘If I’m flying, I want to know what’s going on.’ So I thought I would treat them like I would treat my own family,” she said.
The engine explosion on the Boeing 737-700 saw shrapnel shatter a window, partially sucking a 43-year-old banking executive out of the plane. The woman later died.
President Donald Trump met the crew and passengers at the White House, praising the “incredible job” Shults did in landing the plane safely in Philadelphia with 149 people on board.