“Woman dies after being nearly sucked out of plane,” [UPDATED]

reads the headline in the Guardian‘s e-mail on yesterday’s Southwest Airlines engine failure. What it doesn’t say is,

“Woman pilot saves the other 148.”

I am divided on the fact that this is not lead news.

On the one hand, the matter-of-factness of it pleases me. Her femaleness should NOT be a big deal, any more than our previous president’s African Americanness should have been. Courage and competence are the proper focus.

Authorities said the crew did what they were trained to do.

“They’re in the simulator and practice emergency descents … and losing an engine … They did the job that professional airline pilots are trained to do,” National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters.

And maybe that was her choice. She hasn’t been available for comment.

On the other hand, it betrays an insidious old habit of getting all excited about women as victims, but not about women as heroes.

“She has nerves of steel,” said [a survivor]. “That lady, I applaud her. I’m going to send her a Christmas card, I’m going to tell you that, with a gift certificate for getting me on the ground. She was awesome.”

She “was among the first female fighter pilots in the US military, according to friends and the alumni group at her alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University.”

So, I’ll say it #TammieJoShults is #TheNewSullySullivan.

UPDATE: The story I read was one of the most poker-faced about this aspect of the story. (Oh, those Brits.) The Guardian (which I rely on, don’t get me wrong) also published a photo of the victim but not of the hero. We’ll remedy that in a moment. But many other media are, in fact, focusing on the hero—and comparing her to Sullivan.

Ms Shults, originally from New Mexico, has previously revealed that she might never have become a pilot.

She was quoted on fighter plane blog F-16.net saying she tried to attend an aviation career day at high school but was told they did not accept girls. [“Nevertheless, she persisted.”]

Ms Shults, however, never lost the urge to fly and, after studying medicine in Kansas, applied to the US Air Force. It would not let her take the test to become a pilot, but the US Navy did.

She was one of the first female F-18 pilots and became an instructor before she left the Navy in 1993 and joined Southwest, according to the blog.

A Christian, who is married to a fellow pilot and has two children, Ms Shults said that sitting in the captain’s chair gave her “the opportunity to witness for Christ on almost every flight.”

Of course, the first photo I could find of her was taken a quarter century ago, when she looked the movie part:

TammieJoTammie Jo Shults in the early 1990s. (Courtesy Linda Maloney. Washington Post.)

She’s 56 now. We wouldn’t want to see THAT, would we? Yeah, we would.


(Tammie Jo Shults with husband, Dean, at MidAmerica Nazarene University. KEVIN GARBER, DIRECTOR OF ALUMNI RELATIONS AT MIDAMERICA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY. From Newsweek.)

UPDATE 2: Here’s a summary of the considerable challenges and skills involved.

Published in: on April 18, 2018 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment