The heroic pilot who calmly landed a Southwest Airlines flight after a midair explosion caused a woman to be nearly sucked out of the aircraft, leaving one dead, has been identified.
Tammie Jo Shults, a former Navy fighter pilot and one of the first women to fly an F-18, quickly brought the Dallas-bound Southwest Flight 1380 to land at Philadelphia International at 11.30am after the explosion at 32,000ft.
National Transport Safety Bureau Chairman Robert Sumwalt confirmed that one person died on the flight.
She has since been identified as Jennifer Riordan, a mother-of-two from Albuquerque, who was killed after she was nearly drawn out of the window when it smashed in a midair explosion, and had to be pulled back into her seat by other passengers.
Despite the crisis on board, Schults was calm as she told Air Traffic Control: 'So we have a part of the aircraft missing.'
Asked if the plane was on fire, she said: "No, it's not on fire but part of it's missing. They said there is a hole and someone went out." She added that "we have injured passengers" as she requested medical staff to meet them on landing. Passengers say that after landing the plane, the pilot took the time to speak to all those aboard personally.
"Tammie Jo Schults, the pilot came back to speak to each of us personally"' Diana McBride Self wrote.
"This is a true American Hero. A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation. God bless her and all the crew."
Schults was one of the first female fighter pilots in the US Navy and first to fly an F-18.
She later became an instructor, as the Navy did not allow women to fly in combat, and she finally resigned in 1993 when she joined Southwest Airlines. A mother-of-two, originally from New Mexico, Schults now lives with her husband Dean, a fellow pilot, in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas.
"She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her," said Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas. "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."
Twelve people were injured in the midair explosion, with seven treated at the scene for minor injuries, while the woman who was sucked out the plane, was immediately taken to hospital.
The Boeing 737-700, which took off from New York's La Guardia Airport for Dallas was traveling at 32,500ft when the engine on the left side of the plane exploded.
Passengers said they heard a loud 'boom' and the plane immediately dropped, they said, by what felt like 100ft. Riordan was sitting next to the smashed window was drawn towards it and others next to her held her down for 12 minutes until the plane landed.
Before the NTSB's announcement that there was one fatality involved, the Philadelphia Fire Commissioner said she was taken to hospital in a critical condition.
"One passenger, a woman, was partially drawn out towards the out of the plane, she was pulled back in by other passengers," Todd Bauer, the father of another passenger on board, told NBC 10.
Terrified passengers shared videos and photos from on board before the plane landed as they descended at 3,000ft per minute until they leveled out at 10,000ft.
One passenger filmed himself as he fitted his oxygen mask. 'Something is wrong with our plane! It appears we are going down!
"Emergency landing!! Southwest flight from NYC to Dallas!!" Marty Martinez said as he broadcast live from the plane on Facebook.
He paid US$8 to connect to WiFi as the plane was going down, he said, in order to say his goodbyes.
He is the passenger who later told CBS the woman's injuries left "blood everywhere." There were confused reports from other passengers that someone on board suffered a heart attack.
Martinez added that the plane "smelled like ash" once the window was open. He said flight attendants rushed over in shock and pleaded with passengers to cover up the hole.
The first sign of trouble was a loud noise which happened when the engine exploded.
Timothy Bourman, 37, was sitting at the back of the plane when he said he heard a loud "boom".
"All the sudden, it felt like we dropped 100 feet. Everybody knew something's going on.
"This is bad, like really bad.' A lot of people started panicking and yelling, just real scared.
"We were kind of out of control for a while. It seemed like the pilot was having a hard time controlling the plane. Honestly I think we just all thought we were going down," he told Philly.com.
Bourman, who was traveling with his wife, said they thought they were about to die until the pilot managed to gain control of the aircraft.
"We're just all really thankful to be alive right now. Thankful to God, thankful to that pilot," he added.