Darren Ellisor Image Credit: Guideposts
Darren Ellisor Image Credit: Guideposts

Saving Flight 1380

One passenger died in this airline tragedy. But it could have been worse if not for this pilot’s nerves of steel.

Capt. Tammie Jo Shults 

Bam! The aircraft shuddered and skidded as if it had been T-boned by a Mack truck.

My first officer, Darren Ellisor, and I lunged for the controls of our Dallasbound Southwest Boeing 737. The left engine instruments flashed and wound down. The jump seat oxygen masks and fire gloves flew out and bounced around. The cockpit filled with smoke.

Then a deafening roar enveloped us—a stabbing pain in our ears. The engine had exploded, but there was more going on. The plane was still skidding left when it pitched over in a determined descent.

This has a familiar feel, I thought as I put on my oxygen mask. Not welcome but familiar. Maybe that was good.

As a Navy flight instructor 30 years ago, I’d taken a student up to practice on a calm-wind day a couple months before my wedding. Our first maneuver was a clean stall, done with the gear and flaps up. My student followed proper procedure when the nose dropped— relaxing pressure on the stick and positively neutralizing the controls, then adding power. But instead of coming back into control, the plane whipped around and dove straight down.

I grabbed the controls while my student called out the altitude: “Twentyfive thousand, twenty-four…”

Not that I knew all would turn out well, but I’d learned panic doesn’t help me think. I’d been so anxious as a child that doctors had recommended tranquilizers. My parents refused. When I got

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