Tammie Jo Shults' Husband, Dean, & Family

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Tammy Jo Shults proved she was a hero when she successfully landed the crippled Southwest airliner after a passenger was almost sucked out of a window, but many are also crediting her calm and collected radio call to air traffic control for saving 148 lives.

Captain Tammie Jo Shults, 56, was at the controls when her Southwest Airlines twin-engine Boeing 737, bound for Dallas, blew an engine, with shrapnel from the explosion shattering a window.

The tragic accident claimed the life of a 43-year-old woman, Jennifer Riordan, from Albuquerque, New Mexico - a graduate of the University of New Mexico as well as a former NMBA Board member and NMBA Scholarship victor. In a story on the fighter plane blog F-16.net, she said she tried to attend an aviation career day at her high school.

Riordan's grieving family said of her: "Her impact on everyone she touched can never be fully measured". She added, "It was just as if she and I were sitting here talking".

Shults graduated from MidAmerica Nazarene University in 1983, and her alma mater says she became one of the first female fighter pilots for the US Navy. One of those is Zachary Coleman of Cedar Hill, a college student who was flying from NY back home to surprise his family. She was awesome", Tumlinson said "The lady, the crew, everything, everybody was immaculate.

Witnesses spoke of how a female passenger was sucked toward the window, before being pulled back by fellow passengers as the plane plummeted. "She was so professional".

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"I was on the side where the window was hit", he said. "Most people don't get to walk away from an experience like this, but she was able to safely get us home".

"She has nerves of steel".

"My brother says she's the best pilot he knows", Gary Shults said.

"No, it's not on fire, but part of it's missing", Mrs Shults said.

Tammie Jo once said that sitting in the captain's chair as a pilot gave her the opportunity "to witness for Christ on nearly every flight". Back then women couldn't fly combat missions, so she taught the men who could.

Shults was among the first female fighter pilots in the USA military, according to friends, and flew the Navy's supersonic F/A-18 Hornet. Seven injuries, and the sole death, were reported.

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Another passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, thanked Shults and her crew.

"This is a true American Hero", McBride wrote.

"To take control of that situation and really save everyone on board, is really just unbelievable", Joe Marcus said.

"The loss of one life I'm sure weighs heavy on her mind".

When reached by The Washington Post, Shults' mother-in-law didn't seem the least bit surprised at Tuesday's development. "But any deviation from her way of handling this incident could of changed the outcome". The couple from George West, Texas, sent texts to their children, telling them the plane was going down and that they loved them.

"The nature of her talk was sharing her life journey and life path, and encouraging female students to pursue their dreams and don't give up".

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Virginia Shults said that her daughter-in-law Tammie Jo was likely heartbroken about the passenger who died. "There's always hope. God was on that plane with us".

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