A woman was fatally injured when an engine blew on a Southwest Airlines flight with 149 people on board Tuesday—but survivors say it could have been a much greater tragedy if not for pilot Tammie Jo Shults. The 56-year-old, who was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US military, is being hailed as a hero for calmly guiding the damaged Boeing 737-700 through a steep descent and an emergency landing in Philadelphia after shrapnel from the engine smashed a window. "She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. I'm going to send her a Christmas card ... She was awesome," passenger Alfred Tumlinson tells the AP. Passengers say Shults walked through the plane to check that they were OK after Flight 1380, which had been en route to Dallas from New York, landed safely.
"We have a part of the aircraft missing, so we're going to need to slow down a bit," Shults told air traffic controllers, per Reuters, adding that the plane was not on fire, but "they said there is a hole and someone went out." Shults, who flew F-18s in the Navy, joined Southwest in 1993. Fox reports that Southwest CEO Gary Kelly praised Shults and the rest of the flight crew for handling the situation "magnificently." Passengers say bank executive Jennifer Riordan, the first person to die in an accident involving a US airline since 2009, was partially sucked out of the smashed window before they pulled her back in. The National Transportation Safety Board, which has sent a team of investigators to Philadelphia, says one of the engine's fan blades was separated and there were signs of metal fatigue. (Read more Southwest Airlines stories.)