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But then the left engine exploded.

Lujan said he saw debris from the engine scraping the plane. Air rushed out the shattered window. The cabin depressurised. A woman was partly sucked outside the plane. Flight attendants were "brave, composed and helpful" throughout the ordeal, Madison said.

"Injured passengers, OK, and is your airplane physically on fire?" an air traffic controller could be heard asking in a recording of the transmissions. Shults was identified by passengers onboard the flight and by photos taken on the plane.

This March 20, 2017 photo provided by Kevin Garber at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., shows Tammie Jo Shults, one of the pilots of a Southwest Airlines twin-engine Boeing 737 bound from NY to Dallas that made an emergency landing at the Philadelphia International Airport after the aircraft blew one of its engines on April 17, 2018.

In the seats behind her, passengers sent goodbye text messages to loved ones, tightened oxygen masks around their faces and braced for impact.

Seven other people were slightly injured.

But Capt Shults, 56, was in control. Shults, one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy, was at the controls when the jet landed, according to her husband, Dean Shults.

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

Sumwalt also said Southwest CEO Gary Kelly indicated the airline would immediately start enhanced inspections of the engines on its over 710 Boeing 737 aircraft. The left engine looked as if it had been ripped apart. "A huge thank you for her knowledge, guidance and bravery in a traumatic situation". She added that Shults "came back to speak to each of us personally".

"She has nerves of steel, " one passenger, Alfred Tumlinson, told the Associated Press.

Madison said the descent was not particularly turbulent, although pieces of insulation the size of snowflakes were blowing back on the passengers. I did what needed to be done, what any registered nurse would do, " she recalled.

"That is Tammie Jo", Virginia Shults told the paper.

She was among the first female fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy, according to her alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene University, from which she graduated in 1983. She enrolled in navy flight school in Pensacola, Florida, in 1985 - the start of a decade of groundbreaking service.

"We've confirmed Flight 577 departing Nashville experienced a bird strike shortly after takeoff", Southwest Airlines said in a statement.

She flew the F/A-18 Hornet, the twin-engine supersonic fighter jet and bomber. While her husband was able to join a squadron, her choices were limited, involving providing electronic warfare training to Navy ships and aircraft.

"She did it for herself and all women fighting for a chance", Foster said.

The Albuquerque native and mother of two was Vice President of Community Relations for Wells Fargo bank for almost ten years, according to her LinkedIn account, but family, friends, and citizens in Albuquerque are remembering her for far more than her career.

Shults was commissioned into the Navy in 1985 and reached the rank of lieutenant commander, said Commander Ron Flanders, the spokesman for Naval Air Forces in San Diego. In 2016, a broken fan blade separated from the same type of engine, also forcing the Southwest 737 to make an emergency landing. Southwest Airlines declined to comment about her on Wednesday.

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

He grabbed her with his right arm and tried to pull her back into the window, but the force from outside the plane was too strong.

"I mustered up the courage to assure him I was not and that I was interested in flying", she wrote.