Sully Reflects on Similarities in Southwest Emergency Landing


An engine on a Southwest Airlines flight exploded on Tuesday, killing a woman who was partially pulled out of the plane and forcing an emergency landing.

National Transportation Safety Board

The levelheaded response of Tammie Jo Shults, the captain of a Southwest Airlines flight that suffered a deadly midair engine explosion on Tuesday, reminded some of the so-called Miracle on the Hudson in 2009, when an engine failure forced a plane flying over New York City to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River.

One of the people who felt a twinge of recognition was Chesley B. Sullenberger III, the pilot who executed that water landing off Midtown Manhattan after a dual engine failure brought his plane plummeting toward the earth.

“Certainly there are some similarities,” Captain Sullenberger, whose story was made into a 2016 film, “Sully,” said in an interview on Wednesday. He said he was “impressed” that Captain Shults and her crew “seem to have done a really good job and remained calm, communicated well, had good teamwork.”

Both Captain Sullenberger, 67, and Captain Shults, 56, are former fighter pilots with many years in commercial aviation. And both were given just moments to respond to an unexpected midair crisis that put more than a hundred lives on the line.


Capt. Tammie Jo Shults pictured last year. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy three decades ago.

Kevin Garber/MidAmerica Nazarene University, via Associated Press

“It’s quite a challenge,” he said. “They would have been very busy all the way down.”

But there were differences, too. All 155 people on Captain Sullenberger’s plane, US Airways Flight 1549, survived that day, Jan. 15, 2009. But one person, Jennifer Riordan, was killed on Flight 1380 on Tuesday, when shrapnel from the explosion burst through a window, causing a depressurization that sucked her partially outside the plane.

The other 148 people on Flight 1380, which was traveling from New York City to Dallas, survived. Captain Sullenberger attributed the plane’s safe arrival at Philadelphia International Airport not just to the skill of Captain Shults but also to every crew member, including the flight attendants who desperately tried to save Ms. Riordan’s life.

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