Tammie Jo Shults: Part Two
Originally written for The Hill Country Weekly Newspaper.
Tammie Jo Shults has been able to help change the lives of students through her work at Meadowlands but she has not been on her own. She has the love of God in her heart and carries that with her everywhere she goes. I constantly watch her outwardly radiate Christ’s love to all those she interacts with. Her walk is a huge inspiration for me and others.
Initially growing up in a non-Christian home, it was after a summer trip to church camp that Shults and her brother really accepted the Lord.
Growing up on a farm and ranch, she spent a lot of her childhood outside. “It was really easy for me to figure out that moonrises and sunsets don’t happen with any will of man,” Shults said. Knowing this fact, it was easy for Shults to accept Christ as her creator: “I mean no competition. I didn’t see anybody else that was even in the running,” Shults said.
However, when it came to accepting Christ as her redeemer, Shults struggled a bit. At the time, she thought that this meant Christ wanted her to constantly behave.
Being able to breakoff from the group at camp and go sit alone with her Bible, Shults realized that this was not what was being asked of her. “I was sitting on the steps of some little cabin all by myself because it was quiet time. That’s when it finally dawned on me that He was not asking me to behave. He was asking me to believe,” Shults said. “He wasn’t asking me to believe anything weird or crazy either. It was just that He loved me. That’s it. That’s completely it. When you read scripture through that lens and you believe in it, it just makes all the difference in the world.”
When Shults and her brother returned home, the change in their lives completely amazed their parents. The two would be found sitting on the couch reading scripture if they had finished their work. Their love for the Word was able to turn their whole home around.
Ever since then Shults have been an avid Christian.
She mentioned that she has been in the habit of really needing the Lord first thing in the morning. “I try not to make anyone but the dogs or the horses face me without my quiet time,” Shults said. Whether she is flying and in a hotel room or at home sitting by the well house, she has her quiet time every morning during which she prays for her family and sends them a scripture.
On the morning of April 17, 2018, Shults had already completed her alone time with the Lord. She remembers the verse that morning being Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
As she usually does on her flying days, she also prayed for those she would be flying. “If I’m going to be flying other people’s loved ones around, I always pray that the Lord guides me and anoints my judgment and my airmanship to His glory and for the safety of my passengers,” Shults said.
With her quiet time completed, Shults got ready for the day. For the most part, it was like any other morning, until the left engine of Southwest Flight 1380 failed, leaving Shults with only one engine and 144 terrified passengers.
“When it first happened, the explosion was more like Paul Bunyan kicking the side of the aircraft, which is unusual but is not shocking,” Shults said. “It was after the explosion when it got terribly rough.”
Shults went on to explain that she couldn’t read the instruments and it was so loud that she couldn’t communicate with her first officer, Darren Ellisor, who was seated right next to her. In addition, all the air had been sucked out of the aircraft making the situation even more troubling.
“I remember thinking, ‘it’s so rough that I just don’t know if that wing is going to stay on.’ Of course the thought following on to that is ‘I don’t know if you can land with just one wing. This actually might be the day I get to meet the Lord face to face.’ There was a total calm from that thought but then I realized that I’m not sure if everybody else on the flight feels the same way. So we’ll just fly it until it doesn’t fly anymore,” Shults said.
One of the things that amazed Shults was the fact that she was able to reach her flight attendants when she needed them most. Shults described it as being one of the loudest possible times in her life, with roaring 500 mph winds surrounding them. This was when she couldn’t communicate with her first officer. Yet, she was able to reach the flight attendants through the inflight speaker system. One of the flight attendants must have had the phone to her ear right when Shults was talking to them. Shults was able to tell the flight attendants that the plane would be landing in Philadelphia. They were then able to fight their way through the cabin to inform the passengers and help calm their fears.
At that moment, there was calm amongst the chaos. “That was such a lesson to me on how hope doesn’t always change our circumstances but it does change us. The passengers were all still in the same situation. They were in the same plane with the same rough ride. They all calmed down and changed without anything externally changing,” Shults said.
Shults wasn’t able to reach her flight attendants for another 22,000 feet, when the aircraft slowed down.
Throughout the entire flight Shults had been in prayer. When her first officer and she went back to listen to the cockpit recording, Shults realized that at moments she had been praying aloud. “There was this quiet moment and then you hear my voice go ‘Heavenly Father,’” Shults said.
Shults also recalls another interesting moment during the flight. “When we turned into land, we did a checklist. I don’t remember there being any sound,” Shults said. “But on the cockpit voice recorder, there are bells and whistles going off and just so much sound. But I could have sworn on a stack of Bibles it was silent.”
She went on to explain that this was kind of like the idea of load shed in an aircraft. Load shed is the concept that if the plane is low on electricity, unnecessary systems will turn off. For example, the lighting in the back of the aircraft will be turned off to save electricity for communications, navigation and other necessary systems. Shults explained that God has built this concept into us and it was what she was experiencing while landing the plane.
The entire time Shults doesn’t recall ever feeling her heartbeat rushing. In fact, after she had safely landed the plane, the EMT that was checking her out for injuries asked her how she even goes through security because her heartbeat wasn’t even elevated.
Shults attributed this fact to the calm the Lord had washed over her. “There is a calm that you can train yourself for but I can’t train my heart rate. That is the calm that the Lord provides. He talks about a peace that passes all understanding. I always thought it was in an emotional way but it goes beyond that it. It goes to physical calm as well,” Shults said.
Rachel Fernheimer, Seanique Mallory and Kathryn Sandoval were the flight attendants on Flight 1380. Shults spoke very highly of all three and contributed the calmness of the passengers to the flight attendants.
When Shults had finished checking everything in the cockpit after landing, she walked into the cabin expecting to find angry, frightened and anxious people. But instead “I found these calm, quiet and attentive people. I think a big part of it was the flight attendants willingness to go up and down the aisle. They had to yell at the top of their lungs over 140 plus times. They had cracked ribs and other injuries because it was very rough ride. They could have been buckled up in their seats,” Shults said.
The flight attendants gave up their seats so the people in the row with the window out could have a seat. They, along with multiple passengers, landed unbuckled standing in the aisle.
“I think people seeing those six people sacrificing to help really changed something in everyone. It gave everyone hope,” Shults said. “Everyone was so respectful. Somebody that I talked to said that somebody had noticed someone else’s shoestrings untied and tied their shoestring for them. It was just that kind of atmosphere.”
Shults took a lot away from this flight but one of the major takeaways was that “what you do everyday is what you do on crisis day. I mean there were things that we did just purely out of habit like going back to speak to the passengers and hug them. I haven’t ever had something like this happen before but I do go back and speak to my passengers and comfort them when there’s something amiss. If that means giving them a hug, then I do that. Some of the things that the flight attendants did aren’t in the book. They did that because that’s the kind of people they are,” Shults said.
Shults was never alone in the pilot’s seat. Her faith guided her throughout Flight 1380 and is continuing to constantly guide her. Her story is one of faith as she could not have done any of this without the strength given to her by the Lord.