Woman ex-fighter pilot lands Southwest Airlines plane safely after explosion: 6 other heroic landings

Tammie Jo Shults, 56, a former US Navy fight pilot, calmly told air traffic control that part of her plane was missing, and she would need ambulances on the runway. PHOTOS: NYTIMES, EPA-EFE

This article was first published on Aug 2, 2017, and updated on April 19, 2018.

A female pilot safely landed a stricken Southwest Airlines flight on Tuesday (April 17) after one of the two engines on her Boeing 737-700 blew and broke apart at 32,000 feet, forcing her to implement a rapid descent towards Philadelphia International Airport.

Tammie Jo Shults, 56, a former US Navy fight pilot, calmly told air traffic control that part of her plane was missing, and she would need ambulances on the runway.

For the next 40 minutes, she displayed what one passenger later called "nerves of steel", manoeuvring the plane, which had been on its way from La Guardia Airport in New York to Dallas Love Field, toward Philadelphia for an emergency landing.

She credited her steady composure to her experience as one of the first female fighter pilots in the navy three decades ago, piloting the F/A-18 Hornet in an era when women were barred from combat missions.

Many of the 144 passengers sang her praise on social media after Shults thanked them for their bravery as they left the plane.

The explosion killed one passenger who had been nearly sucked out of a shattered window.

Such a story of courage, skills, and not just a bit of luck, is far from isolated. Here are six other miraculous landings.

1. Istanbul, 2017

Captain Alexander Akopov (right) had to land the passenger plane - with 127 people on board - "blind" after a freak hailstorm damaged its windscreen. PHOTOS: TWITTER

Amid a freak hailstorm over Turkey which smashed up his plane's windscreen, Captain Alexander Akopov executed a "blind" landing at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on July 27, 2017, evening local time, saving the lives of 121 passengers and six crew members on board.

The Ukrainian pilot was awarded his country's national medal of courage and hailed as a hero, as a video of his landing reached nearly six millon views online.

He later told local media: "I have been flying for 30 years. Well, did you see the plane landing? Was it OK? The passengers are alive. It is normal. This is our professional reliability."

The Cyprus-bound Airbus A320 operated by Turkish airline AtlasGlobal had just taken off from the Istanbul airport when it was battered by golf ball-sized hailstones.

2. Hudson River, 2009

This is perhaps the best known of heroic landings in recent memory, earning a dramatic re-enactment in Sully, a 2016 movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

Airbus A320 of the US Airways was barely airborne for three minutes after take-off on Jan 15, 2009, when a flock of Canada geese took out both of its engines, according to news reports.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot then of Flight 1549, made the decision to ditch the plane into the Hudson River in New York.

Captain Chesley Sullenberge made the decision to crash-land the plane into the Hudson River in New York. PHOTO: TWITTER/KEN MOORE

A passenger later told the Guardian that "water just flooded into the plane quickly. A couple of windows broke".

Even as the passengers who were standing on the left wing of the sinking plane were ferried to safety by rescue crafts, it emerged that all of the 148 passengers, the two pilots, and five cabin staff on board the Seattle-bound plane survived.

3. Heathrow, 2008

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Witnesses at Heathrow airport in London described the plane, which took off from Beijing, coming in very low and eventually having its undercarriage and two wheels torn off as it skidded across grass and tarmac on Jan 17, 2008, the BBC reported.

The pilot of British Airways Flight 38, Captain Peter Burkill, said the engine malfunctioned without warning, and that there was a moment when he feared that all on board would die.

Captain Burkill said in an interview with the BBC in February 2008: "I always think about it - as well as my wife - it will probably never leave me".

An investigation into the crash later revealed that the Boeing 777 had lost power because of a build up of ice, which choked the inflow of fuel into the engines.

Despite landing short of the runway, all 152 people on board escaped alive, although 18 were taken to the hospital for injuries.

4. Singapore, 2010

One of the four engines of the Sydney-bound Flight QF32 exploded in mid-air shortly after taking off from Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

An engine on a Qantas Airbus 380 with more than 450 people on board exploded mid-air after take-off in Singapore, and was forced to spend a further 90 minutes airborne before landing sucessfully in Changi Airport. Flight QF32 was bound for Sydney.

During those harrowing minutes on Nov 4, 2010, debris from the plane fell on Batam in Indonesia, the New York Times reported. Footage showed people in Batam holding sheets of metal, some of them even bearing the red and white paint of the Qantas insignia.

Captain Richard de Crespigny told The Straits Times after the incident that "only three of the 11 fuel tanks were usable. Instead of looking at what had failed, we looked at what we had left - three tanks over the top of three engines that would guarantee three hours of flying time. The failed fuel system now became simple and manageable".

Passenger Tyler Wooster told Australia's Nine Network: "My whole body just went to jelly... and I didn't know what was going to happen as we were going down, if we were going to be OK."

Although there were no reported injuries, the incident caused flights of the A380 superjumbo jetliner to be suspended by several airlines.

5. Jakarta, 1982

A British Airways Boeing 747 encountered an ash plume from the erupting Mount Galunggung, south-east of Jakarta on June 24, 1982. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ALDI HADINATA

Captain Eric Moody was commanding a London-to-Auckland British Airways Boeing 747 on June 24, 1982, when it encountered an ash plume from the erupting Mount Galunggung, south-east of Jakarta.

A strange light appeared on the cockpit windscreen and sulphur-smelling smoke started filling the passenger cabin. Within minutes, all four engines failed, The Daily Mirror reported.

Captain Moody of BA Flight 9, with 263 passengers, told BBC's Good Morning Scotland later: "It was very frightening, all the engines stopped for 14 to 15 minutes."

The plane then managed to glide sufficiently out of the ash plume for three of the four engines to restart.

Despite very limited windscreen vision and facing a host of other landing problems, the crew managed to touch down safely at Jakarta airport. It was discovered later that as the ash cloud was dry, it did not show up on the weather radar designed to detect moisture in clouds.

6. Southampton, 1990

Co-pilot Alastair Atchison landed the plane at Southampton Airport after 22 minutes, and Captain Lancaster was discovered to be alive. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SOUTHAMPTON AIRPORT

Flight attendant Nigel Ogden was taking a break on the flight deck on June 10, 1990, when an improperly installed panel of the windscreen on British Airways flight 5390 fell out, causing the pilot beside him to be sucked into the open gap.

It was by holding fast to pilot Tim Lancaster's belt that Mr Ogden prevented the captain from flying out of the Spain-bound plane.

Co-pilot Alastair Atchison landed the plane - a BAC 1-11 528FL - at Southampton Airport after 22 minutes, and Captain Lancaster - whose head had banged against the side of the cockpit as the top half of his body flailed outside - was discovered to be alive.

He was rushed to the hospital and survived, returning to work within five months.

Mr Ogden suffered a dislocated shoulder and frostbite.

No one else was injured. There were 81 passengers, four cabin crew and two flight crew on board the plane.

Sources: BBC, New York Times, The Guardian, Daily Mirror

Correction note: This story has been edited to say that according to news reports, the engines of the Airbus A320 of the US Airways were taken out by a flock of Canada geese.

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