It was such an honor to not only meet (!) but converse with a real live hero- Tammie Jo Shults, captain of the fated Southwest Airlines flight 1380 that suffered a catastrophic engine failure in flight- at the Women in Aviation International conference (#WAI2019) held in Long Beach, CA!
Milieux Project had previously written about Tammie Jo in an analysis of her fame and media response compared to Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger’s mishap in 2009. Without knowing the “inside story” but only evaluating the situation from an outside perspective, we wondered if the feminist narrative that we write about so much – the idea that women of modernity are repeatedly heralded for accomplishing supposed “firsts” because of historical suppression and oppression and not due to skill or experience – may have contributed to her quiet reduction in media coverage.
The aviation community had been asking the same questions- as Dr. George Nolly points out here in his podcast, readyfortakeoffpodcast.com– Tammie Jo’s mishap was far more complex, dangerous, and far more physically, emotionally and mentally challenging than Capt “Sully’s” mishap and yet she was not rewarded – much less recognized!- for her calm and presence under intense pressure landing her 737 that day. The black box tapes capturing her dialogue with the ground controller revealed her poise from the beginning to end, she even helped the ground controller to remain calm as she shared the news that she had lost a passenger due to the rapid decompression. It is hard to imagine being her in that moment passing the report of a lost passenger. She shared every detail with us at the Women in Aviation International Conference 2019, bringing most of us to tears, detailing the heroism of her entire crew and ordinary citizens that were on that fateful flight that day.
So it was an absolute honor to walk with her into the lobby of the Hyatt hotel after our Women Military Aviators Flight Suit Social and ask her directly why her aviation mishap was handled so differently than Sully’s. Was it by her choice that she did not speak much about her accident or were other things at play that the public was not privy to. Her response was amazing, she has so much character.
First, the incident was an anomaly and had never been experienced before. The aviation community understood that but the day to day Southwest customer might not. SWA worried the news of the equipment failure might lead to a fear of flying for their customers so they chose not to highlight the emergency. Tammie Jo was asked not to discuss the details before the safety investigation was concluded. Sully, on the other hand, suffered bird strikes, which is something most people can understand is not related to the systems of the aircraft.
Second, Tammie wanted to respect the family of the passenger that died. Sully did not have fatalities associated with his accident, so it was much more tolerable for him to go on late night television to “make light” of his incident. Tammie knew implicitly that such a move on her crew’s part would be inappropriate and disrespectful to the family and everyone that was on the flight and witnessed the loss.
Finally, she and her crew are helping to write a book and movie about the accident that she hopes will accurately depict what she and her crew had to do to save the flight that day. She stressed multiple times that she was not alone coordinating and landing the jet that day- it took her whole crew- and it is hard to give an accurate description without a movie or pictures.
All three of those reasons were enough for Capt Shults to take time to reflect and collect herself on how she wanted the media- and the world- to understand how everything happened that day. Her leadership showed through even as she was describing these circumstances and I am grateful to have heard her experience directly from the hero herself. I imagine her story, and the whole crew of SWA flight 1380 stories, are just beginning… I can’t wait to watch the movie and share her story with my friends and family.
If you ever have the opportunity to hear Captain Shults speak, I highly recommend it. She is humble, approachable, graceful, sincere and strong. I am so grateful my path crossed hers.
#character #tenacity #bethechange