This article in the New York Times caught my eye yesterday. By now everyone has heard of the Southwest Airlines flight that had an engine explode on a flight from New York to Dallas. Sadly, one passenger was killed and others injured. The passengers had to be terrified – and by all accounts they were. But the pilot kept her wits about her and safely made an emergency landing. It should not surprise anyone that the pilot, Tammie Jo Shults, was a naval aviator. She was an F-18 pilot in the late 80’s and early 90’s, before women were even permitted to fly “tactical missions.” My guess is that her reconnaissance unit was not exactly a safe job notwithstanding the then existing legal restrictions on women in combat.
Airlines work hard on safety and this is the first fatality in a long time. That speaks to the success of those efforts. No doubt all pilots are trained to respond to the loss of an engine and much worse scenarios. The real thing is very different from training, however. The military is good at teaching people to operate under pressure and not panic. I cannot help but think that Ms. Shults’ early Navy training made a difference – possibly a life or death difference. The passengers that day were very lucky that this former naval aviator was sitting in the pilot seat when that flight took off from New York. They quite likely owe their lives to this veteran.