Southwest pilot Tammie Jo Shults applauded by hometown
Alamogordo Daily News, N.M.
TULAROSA — The Southwest Airlines pilot being hailed a hero for landing a Boeing 737 after an engine blew is one of the Tularosa Basin’s very own, Tammie Jo Shults, née Bonnell.
Shults’ father, Rusty Bonnell, was a farmer and raised his family on a ranch in Otero County. Shults graduated from Tularosa High School in 1979 and was very active in several school groups including National Honor Society, Student Council, FFA and cheerleading.
“She was a great person and has always been very kind,” said Joyce Roulston, née King, who was Shults’ childhood friend and classmate. “She was very humble, even as a teenager.”
Classmate Alynn Hooper agreed saying Shults was always a very nice person and very involved in extracurricular activities.
In the book “Military Fly Moms,” by Linda Maloney, Shults said it was during her childhood while she watched air shows and aircraft fly out of Holloman Air Force Base that she fell in love with flying.
Shults is quoted on the fighter plane blog F-16.net saying she tried to attend an aviation career day at high school and was told they did not accept girls. Shults went onto state that she decided to enroll at MidAmerica Nazarene University, in Olathe, Kansas, because it had a good pre-med program and she was interested in veterinary medicine but her desire to fly didn’t waver.
In 1983, Shults graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University with degrees in biology and agribusiness, Carol Best, a university spokeswoman told The Kansas City Star.
After college, Shults was turned down by the Air Force but accepted by the Navy for its aviation officer candidate school.
During her time in the military, Shults became one of the first female fighter pilots in the history of the Navy and one of the first women to fly F-18s. She landed her fighter plane on boats at 150 mph and eventually became an instructor. Although she wasn’t allowed to fly in combat, she did fly as an aggressor pilot. After a successful career, she resigned her commission in 1993, according to the Associated Press.
She met her husband, Dean Shults, while she was in the Navy and the two became pilots for Southwest Airlines. Together the couple have two children, Sydney and Marshall, and live in Texas.
On Tuesday, Shults was flying 150 passengers from LaGuardia Airport to Dallas-Love Field on Flight 1380 when her plane lost one of its two engines. During the ordeal, an aircraft window was shattered and Jennifer Riordan, of Albuquerque, died after being partially sucked out of the window, according to the Associated Press.
The AP reported, Shults maintained a cool, calm demeanor as she communicated with air traffic control about the emergency, as can be heard through the released audio recording. Shults and crew brought the plane on a steep descent to an emergency landing in Philadelphia.
It wasn’t surprising to Roulston that Shults was so collected during the emergency landing.
“No, not at all (surprised),” Roulston said. “I was surprised because I haven’t heard from her in 40 years but not surprised at the integrity, bravery and how courageous she was through the whole thing. She’s always been one of those people that was steady and always took everything in stride.”
Tularosa Mayor Margaret Trujillo said the Village of Tularosa is extremely proud of Shults and is working to put together a proclamation to honor her.
“To think someone from our little village could perform such a heroic act,” Trujillo said. “You know, we’re always hoping that our kids stay in our little town but I think this was divine intervention that this young lady got out of here and went on to do bigger things. It’s got to be divine intervention that she was where she needed to be.”
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