EDITORIAL: When a plane fell apart, good people rose to the challenge

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Marty Martinez, left, was among the passengers aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 when a jet engine blew out. One passenger was killed. (Marty Martinez via AP)

A word about Americans. In a pinch, we’re still there for each other.

Look no further for proof than the selflessness, courage and coolness under pressure exhibited on Tuesday by the pilot, flight attendants and so many passengers when Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 blew an engine and death crept close.

EDITORIAL

There was the Texas rancher in a cowboy hat, flying back to Corpus Christi from New York. When shrapnel shattered a window and a woman was sucked halfway out of the depressurized cabin, he threw off his oxygen mask and rushed to her aid.

There was the firefighter from Celina, Texas, who joined in the rescue. The rancher and the firefighter pulled the woman back in.

There was the retired school nurse who unbuckled her seat belt and, alongside the firefighter, performed CPR on the rescued woman for more than 20 minutes. They could not save her, but even as the plane shuddered and lurched and debris flew through the air, they gave it their all.

There were the passengers who held each others’ hands. There were the passengers who shouted, “It’s OK! We’re going to do this!”

There was the pilot. Oh, what a pilot.

Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults. (Kevin Garber/MidAmerica Nazarene University via AP)

Southwest Airlines pilot Tammie Jo Shults. (Kevin Garber/MidAmerica Nazarene University via AP)

Her name is Tammie Jo Shults. Thirty years ago, she bucked the odds to become one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots. Now on Tuesday, at 31,000 feet, she demonstrated an unflappable cool in saving the lives of 149 passengers and fellow crew members.

“We have a part of the aircraft missing,” she told air traffic control, calmly and slowly. “Could you have the medical meet us there on the runway as well? We’ve got injured passengers.”

She guided her crippled plane, a Boeing 737, to an emergency landing in Philadelphia. The plane hit hard, but safely.

We need to hear stories like this because they are true. More true than all the hard looks and invective we throw at each other these days.

As Americans, we’re more alike than we are different, and more bound together than we might care to admit.

When a plane fell apart, good people rose to the challenge, and nobody asked anybody how they voted.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com

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