Southwest pilots reveal harrowing details from emergency landing

Tammie Jo Shults and Darren Ellisor, the pilots who safely landed the plane after one of its engines failed, open up about how they kept their nerves under control in the tense situation.
6:30 | 05/11/18

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Transcript for Southwest pilots reveal harrowing details from emergency landing
That ABC exclusive. The hero pilots sharing how they were able to bring the plane down safely after an engine explosion. Our Martha Raddatz is here. You hadpportunity -- the privilege to sit down with the nerves of steel. Absolute nerves of steel. In fact, tammie Jo Shults wasn't even supposed to be flying that day. She switched shifts with her husband, he was supposed to be flying. She wanted to go to the track meet of their 18-year-old son. It was just 20 minutes into the packed southwest flight from new York City to Dallas when captain tammie Jo Shults and first officer Darren Ellisor knew something was wrong. We were passing through 32,000 feet when we had a large bang and a rapid decompression. We have a fire in number one. Reporter: The number one engine on the left side of the plane had broken into pieces hurling shrapnel through the air. It was rather radical and it yawed and then it began its own descent. It was a bit of a rough shudder. The whole thing was shaking. Uh-huh. Yes. A lot. Yes. What did you think had happened? My immediate reaction was a seizure of the engine. It was very disorienting to have all these things happen at once and I actually couldn't make heads or tails of what was going on. Reporter: Neither could the 144 terrified passengers on board. And it shifted the plane badly. So badly that this flight attendant walking toward me grabbed ahold of the seat, kind of stumbled and almost fell. Reporter: Some frantically wrote good-bye messages to loved ones. So I spent a lot of my time trying to articulate what I wanted my final words to be. Reporter: Immediately began dropping and oxygen masks fell D it was terrifying. Almost immediately I felt the rush of wind and all the while you have all these oxygen masks that are dangling in the air and now they're waving violently in the air. Reporter: That broken engine also hurling a chuck of metal shattering the window at seat 14a where passenger Jennifer Riordan was sitting causing a violent whirlwind of depressurization that sucked her halfway out of the plane. Holly Mackey was two seats over in 14c. When you first looked over and saw Jennifer what did you see? From about her rib cage, the bottom part of her rib cage up was out the window. Reporter: Only the seat belt kept Jennifer from being pulled all the way out of the plane. Holly dropped her life-saving air mask and tried to help. I had leaned over to try to pull Jennifer in and the plane had rolled and that -- that was my four seconds of terror where I thought -- Was it rolling towards the open -- Yeah, we were going towards the open window and I really I thought well, we are going to go down. Reporter: It would take the strength of several passengers including Tim McGinty fighting the enormous pressure to pull Jennifer back inside the plane, but it appeared to be too late. She was gone when you got there. I think so. I mean you didn't know at the time. Reporter: As flight 1380 is rapidly descending, Shults and Ellisor each put on their oxygen masks. She a former Navy fighter pilot. He an air force veteran. Ellisor was at the controls when the engine failed and the moments afterward Shults taking over for the landing. He started and then I put mine on and then we had some switchology to do to be able to communicate through the mask and then it was really just back to flying, aviate, communicate, navigate. In the Navy there is a saying whatever it takes. Reporter: One of the air traffic controllers guiding the aircraft down, Cory Davids speaking now for the first time. She was so calm, so nerves of steel and almost brought a calm to me, to us too. Us air traffic controllers, when someone declares something as serious as this you can tell the strain in the voice, something is really wrong. With her it was just another day in the office. Everybody, breathe. We're almost landing. Everybody, we are almost there. Southwest 1380 has an engine fire, descending. Is your airplane physically on fire? No, it's not on fire but part of it's missing. They saids there was a hole and, someone went out. I'm sorry. You said there was a hole and somebody went out. It must have been a punch in the gut when you heard someone was injured. That's when we decided it was time to go land. Did you worry you might not make it. No. Never. No. Never. As long as you have altitude and ideas you're okay. We had both. You could feel their emotion when they were talking about Jennifer and we're still thinking of their family. Both former military pilots. Tear compocomposure, Martha. They are delightful people to talk to but that steady calm as he said nerves of steel, that's why they were able to land that aircraft. That training really, really kicked in for them. Yeah, to see all the passengers, you know, helping out as best they could. Many were texting their family and friends. The pilots waited until they got on the ground before -- They certainly did and a wonderful story that tammie Jo tells us. Her son is about to go to the air force academy. That's how you rebel when you have two Navy aviators -- and she texted him and she said, landed on a single engine. Her son flies a single engine plane and he said, mom, I land on a single engine every day. Oh, my goodness. Can never impress the teenagers, right. I know you'll have -- Great people. Great crew. Those flight attendants were amazing. Reminds me so much of captain Sullenberger and how he gave credit to the crew and the flight attendants and all and it's the same in this case. Teamwork. Like all of us. And you can see much more of Martha's interview with the heroes of southwest pilots tonight on "20/20" at 10:00 P.M. Eastern right here on ABC. Michael.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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