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Pilot of Southwest Flight with Blown Engine Was Navy Fighter Pilot

The Southwest pilot being hailed as a hero for landing a crippled Southwest plane was among the first female fighter pilots to serve in the military.

Tammie Jo Shults was at the helm of a twin-engine Boeing 737 bound from New York to Dallas on Tuesday with 149 people aboard when one of the aircraft’s engines blew.

At 32,000 feet, shrapnel from the blown engine smashed a window, setting off a desperate scramble by passengers to save a woman from getting sucked out.

Shults took the plane into a rapid descent and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia as passengers using oxygen masks that dropped from the ceiling said their prayers and braced for impact.

One person was killed, and seven were hospitalized with minor injuries, authorities said.

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

She was a 1983 graduate of the university in Olathe, where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness, said Carol Best, a university spokeswoman.

Cindy Foster, a classmate of Shults’ at MidAmerica who graduated the same year, said Shults enlisted in the Navy and was met with “a lot of resistance” because of her gender. She’d always had a love for flying, and she chose the Navy only after the Air Force denied her a chance to become a pilot, Foster said.

“So she knew she had to work harder than everyone else,” Foster said. “She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance. … I’m extremely proud of her. She saved a lot of lives today.”

Foster said that not only was Shults among the first female fighter pilots, she was the first woman to fly an F/A-18 Hornet for the Navy.

Shults transitioned to training pilots in the military before becoming a pilot for Southwest Airlines.

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