The Navy has confirmed that Tammie Jo Shults, a Southwest pilot who successfully made an emergency landing after her aircraft suffered a massive engine failure and depressurized, was a pioneer for the Navy as one of the first female fighter pilots for the service.
Navy officials released details of Shults' service Tuesday, revealing that she had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander in the service and eventually served as an instructor pilot for both the EA-6B Prowler and F/A-18 Hornet.
"In regards to the question on whether she was the first female Navy fighter pilot, we can confirm that [Lt. Cmdr.] Shults was among the first cohort of women pilots to transition to tactical aircraft," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Christina Sears said in a statement.
According to data released by the Navy, Shults received a commission on June 21, 1985 and was promoted to lieutenant commander in December 1995. She left active duty in March 1993, but remained in the Navy Reserve until August 2001.
Shults served at Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 34 in Point Mugu, California, as an instructor, and also completed tours at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.
Shults has spoken publicly in the past about opposition she faced as a woman in the male-dominated field of military aviation. Women were not even permitted to fly in combat operations until 1993, at the end of Shults' active-duty service.
In a 1998 story in the San Antonio Express-News, Shults is quoted describing training with a "surly F-18 instructor" who believed it "degrading" to have a woman in the cockpit.
"I told him Congress has stated that I am going to be here. If you don't like that, vote. But when you're wearing a uniform, your orders are to give me a check ride," Shults said, according to the publication.
Shults' husband Dean was reportedly also a Navy pilot.
Now, all attention is on Shults for the calmness and control she displayed in navigating a crisis situation.
Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 departed from LaGuardia airport in New York Tuesday morning en route to Dallas, but soon after found itself in crisis. The plane's left engine broke with an explosive sound, sending parts through the body of the aircraft. At least one plane window was broken, and passengers reported at least one woman almost being sucked through the hole.
Shults ultimately made an emergency landing in Philadelphia roughly an hour after takeoff.
While Southwest reported one passenger died and seven more were treated for minor injuries, the damage the plane sustained could have easily resulted in a far more tragic outcome.
"Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally," one passenger, Diana McBride, wrote in a public Facebook post. "This is a true American Hero."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for the news story quoting Shults. It was published in 1998.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.