Shults was among the first female fighter pilots in the U.S. military, according to friends and the alumni group at Shults’ alma mater, MidAmerica Nazarene.
Shults was a 1983 graduate of the university in Olathe, Kansas, where she earned degrees in biology and agribusiness, said Carol Best, a university spokeswoman told The Kansas City Star.
Passenger Alfred Tumlinson, of Corpus Christi, Texas, lauded Shults and her crew for their professionalism.
“She has nerves of steel. That lady, I applaud her. 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,” Tumlinson said “The lady, the crew, everything, everybody was immaculate. They were so professional in what they did to get us on the ground.”
Shults’ brother-in-law, Gary Shults, said her husband also is a Southwest pilot and told him she had made the emergency landing.
“She’s a formidable woman, as sharp as a tack,” said Gary Shults, a dentist in San Antonio.
U.S. transportation Secretary Elaine Chao extended her sympathies to the loved ones of the passenger who died, Jennifer Riordan, of New Mexico, and praised the pilot, crew and others who were on board.
“I commend the pilots who safely landed the aircraft, and the crew and fellow passengers who provided support and care for the injured, preventing what could have been far worse,” Chao said in a statement.
Travelers said fellow passengers dragged Riordan back in as the sudden decompression of the cabin pulled her part way through the smashed window.
National Transportation Safety Board chairman Robert Sumwalt said it was the first passenger fatality in an accident involving a U.S. airline since 2009.
Wallace and AP business writer David Koening reported from Dallas.