President praises pilot, victim from NM

President Donald Trump greets Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults in the Oval Office on Tuesday. (Michael Coleman/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

WASHINGTON – Two highly respected women with deep ties to New Mexico – one still living and one now deceased – received glowing recognition from President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Tuesday during a ceremony honoring the crew and passengers aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which blew an engine and made an emergency landing in Philadelphia last month.

During the Oval Office event, Trump singled out Tammie Jo Shults, a Tularosa native and former Navy fighter pilot, for her heroic composure and skill in landing the badly damaged plane. The president also made special mention of Jennifer Riordan, a beloved member of the Albuquerque community and passenger on the plane who was killed in the April 17 accident when debris from the engine tore into the plane’s cabin.

“Tammie did an incredible job,” Trump told a small pool of reporters gathered to cover the event, and later added that “everybody’s talking about” her heroism in landing the plane.

Shults, now a resident of San Antonio, Texas, beamed as Trump – seated at his desk in the Oval Office – turned to shake her hand.

“I understand you were one of the first women ever to fly tactical fighter aircraft in the United States Navy,” Trump said. “You drew from years of training and safety, and you knew how to land that plane. We salute you and every member of this crew. Thank you very much.”

Trump also praised Riordan, the only person to die in the highly unusual accident. She was a wife and mother of two who worked as an executive for Wells Fargo in Albuquerque. More than 1,000 people attended Riordan’s memorial last month.

“Our hearts break for the family of the passenger who tragically lost her life,” Trump said, adding that Riordan’s loved ones are grieving “the loss of a loving wife and mother.”

“We send our prayers to Jennifer’s husband and their two beautiful young children,” Trump added. “We ask God to hold this family close as they grieve their loss. She must’ve been a fantastic woman, clearly a fantastic woman.”

Shults has declined media interviews since the accident and did not take any questions Tuesday.

Passengers on the troubled flight praised her calm demeanor after the accident, noting how she coolly and compassionately walked down the aisle in an attempt to comfort them after landing. Some have compared her to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009, saving everyone aboard after the plane struck a flock of geese.

Shults issued a statement posted on Southwest Airlines’ social media pages along with first officer Darren Ellisor, who was also in attendance Tuesday.

“We feel we were simply doing our jobs,” Shults and Ellisor said. “Our hearts are heavy. On behalf of the entire crew, we appreciate the outpouring of support from the public and our coworkers as we all reflect on one family’s profound loss.”

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.

The National Transportation Safety Board is examining whether metal fatigue caused an engine fan of the Boeing 737-700 to snap in midflight.

Flight attendants Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Mallory and Kathryn Sandoval were also honored in the Oval Office on Tuesday.

“You were a little bit nervous up there?” Trump asked the flight attendants.

“Not at all,” they responded, smiling and shaking their heads.