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Passengers who were aboard Southwest 1380, the flight that experienced an engine explosion in mid-air last week, are all telling the same compelling story.

Despite a window shattering due to the impact of parts from the exploding engine, a passenger barely avoiding being sucked out the damaged window, and the chaos, confusion and screaming from hundreds of panicked passengers, there was one person on board flight 1380 that immediately took charge and calmed the frightened passengers, reassuring them that all would ultimately be well.

All airline companies know that in the event of an in-flight emergency, such as aborted landings, engine failures, lightning strikes, fires in the galley, loss of the hydraulic system, geese sucked into the engine during takeoff or any other emergency, there is only one thing that will calm hundreds of frightened and screaming passengers.

So it should have surprised no one that it was the calm, cool and confident voice of the pilot coming over the intercom that eased their angst and kept them from becoming hysterical in the moments after the sudden violent and explosive event occurred.

But this was not your typical pilot with a deep baritone voice and a slight southern accent. Instead, the passengers on flight 1380 heard a woman’s voice over the intercom — a steady, unruffled and professional voice that confidently comforted them, calmed them and assured them that all would be well.

No surprise there. Tammie Jo Shults had an exemplary and distinguished U.S. Navy career prior to becoming a commercial airline pilot. Capt. Shults was the first woman to ever pilot the F-18 Hornet, one of the deadliest aircraft ever created. She then became an instructor and trained other pilots — all males by the way — to fly combat missions that she herself was not able to take part in due to longstanding Navy policy at the time. Some time later Ms. Shults then left the military to become one of the 5.44 percent of commercial airline pilots in the U.S. today who are female.

According to accounts from Southwest Flight 1380 passengers and crew, Capt. Shults performed a near miracle in piloting the horrifically damaged aircraft, with just one engine operating, safely to the ground while at the same time providing a steady stream of reassuring commentary and clarification over the intercom to the traumatized passengers.

Tragically, the passenger who was nearly sucked out of the window later died from injuries incurred in the incident. Flight attendants and passengers attempted to save the woman’s life but she was unable to be resuscitated.

The unfortunate victim, 43-year-old Jennifer Riordan of Albuquerque, New Mexico, was the first passenger to die during a domestic U.S. commercial flight since 2009. That is an amazing safety record when you consider that during this same time period there have been more than 300,000 deaths due to automobile accidents alone.

Conclusion? Despite the tragic event on flight 1380, air travel is by far the safest and fastest way to travel, no matter what your destination is, thanks to dedicated professionals such as Tammie Jo Shults.

Opinions offered in If I Were King are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Tri-County Times or its staff. Email the King at king@tctimes.com. Some content adapted from the internet.

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