Transcript for Pilots who landed deadly Southwest flight on what happened in cockpit
You weren't scheduled to fly that day, were you? No, I traded with my husband. Southwest airlines captain tammie Jo Shultz had no idea when she traded shifts with her husband, also a pilot, that she would end up being called a national hero. That hero label was almost immediate. What did you think when you heard that? Darren and I really just did what we knew would work. A humble response after she and her first officer saved more than 140 people. Did you worry you might not make it? No. No. Never? As long as you have altitude and ideas you're okay. We had both. Southwest airlines 1380, new York to Dallas. No indications of any problem whatsoever? No. On board, a firefighter, a nurse, a professor, a realtor and Jennifer Riordan, a 43-year-old vice president at Wells Fargo, headed home to her two children and husband of 21 years. There's no better way to describe Jennifer than kind, loving. What were you going to do that night? My son had a baseball game that was already started but she was going to join us there and watch little joshy play some baseball. Southwest has no reserve seats. Passengers line up and choose their own seats. I had actually initially taken the window seat, and then I had had a really large cup of coffee and thought I'm going to be inconveniencing everybody because I'm going to need to get up multiple times. Holly eventually settles in the aisle seat, a young teen-age girl in the middle, Jennifer Riordan at the window. 20 minutes into the flight the Boeing 737 hits cruising altitude. We were passing through about 32,000 feet when we had a large bang and rapid decompression. And it shook the plane badly. The number one engine on the left side of the plane had broken into pieces, hurling shrapnel through the air. What's the first thing you did? Started tightening seat belts. Texas real estate agent Tim McGinty and his wife, Kristen, were sitting across the aisle in row 13. It's the most helpless feeling you can imagine because there's absolutely nothing you can do. Nothing. Then came the screams. Two, maybe three screams. Just screams, bad screams. That broken engine had hurled a chunk of metal shattering the window where Jennifer Riordan was sitting. That caused a violent whirl wind depressurization that pulled her halfway out of the plane. The bottom part of her rib cage was out the window. Only the seat belt kept Jennifer's body from flying all the way out of the plane. Holly dropped her life-saving air mask and tried to help. I leaned over to help Jennifer in and the plane had rolled. I thought we are going to go down. Holly and the girl in the middle seat began a desperate tug of war, trying to pull Jennifer back inside the plane. They couldn't budge her and holly began to fear she or the girl would be the next to go. So I wrapped around the girl and I pulled her over to me so she was farther from the window and I put my hand on Jennifer's back so then if she was conscious or could feel anything, she would at least know that we were there. I thought if I ever -- if I ever had a conversation with her family, I would want to be able to tell them that she wasn't alone. Tim McGinty rushed to help but he, too, was no match for the enormous pressure. The memory is overwhelming. I went to the window and tried to -- just tried to pull her in and it was -- you know, couldn't, just couldn't. Up in row 7, firefighter paramedic Andrew needum. I can remember looking to Stephanie. Weep made eye contact and that gave me the approval to do my thing. Together the men were able to pull Jennifer back inside where they laid her across the seats. A flight attendant called for help asking for anyone who knew cpr. I was like I do! Peggy Phillips, a nurse, was several rows in front of Jennifer. I just started giving compressions and trying to open an air way. We just did everything that we could to try to revive Mrs. Riordan. To be honest, I wouldn't have done this interview if I didn't think that maybe some closure could come to the family to know that she did not suffer. She was gone when you got there? I think so. While there was chaos in the cabin, up in the cockpit Tammy Jo and Darren are in emergency mode. The aircraft yawed and banked to the left a little over 40 degrees. We had a very severe vibration from the number one engine. What did you think had happened? My immediate reaction was a seizure of the engine. That's pilot speak for engine failure. As we now know, the engine did more than stall, it blew apart. As the plane started deding, Tammi Jo and Darren put on their oxygen masks. We had to use hand signals because it was loud and we had to communicate. For our interviews, we brought them here for the intrepid sea, air and space museum in New York. This has to take you back to your early careers in flying. Tammi Jo always knew she wanted to a pilot. I had a newspaper clipping that said if you wanted to be a pilot, come. She rose to rank a lieutenant commander. She was also among the first female f-18 fighter pilots, seen here in an old news report. But up until the early 90s, women weren't allowed to fly combat missions. Instead they were relegated to teaching the men. In 1993 she left the Navy and has been flying for southwest for 25 years. Every once in a while there would be a passenger that would look at me, see the stripes and say are you flying? And if I answered yes, everyone once in a while they'd turn around and get off. Reporter: Her medical training kicked in during those critical moments. No, it's not on fire but part of it's missing. They said there's a hole and someone went out. I'm sorry, you said there was a hole and somebody went out? As the 737 continues its rapid descent -- The firefighters came over and saying brace for impact, take cover, brace for impact. Coming in, I knew we were going too fast. Plane hits the runway at roughly 109 miles an hour, much faster than the typical 155. Emergency crews are waiting and paramedics rush Jennifer Riordan off the plane. Back in Albuquerque, her husband, Michael, watches the news and waits for more information. I saw one passenger was brought to the hospital. I thought okay, if the whole plane didn't crash, she can be that injured, she's at the hospital. And a few minutes later I got a call from the hospital and the doctors said I'm sorry, she couldn't make it. He gathered their son and 12-year-old daughter. I took their hands and said mama is not going to come home, guys, but we're going to live the rest of our lives with mommy in our hearts. Back in Philadelphia, the passengers began to process what just happened. I just kept thinking if I was strong enough, if I had pulled her in, would she live? You did everything you possibly could have done. Everything. I'm still figuring that out. As passengers begin their exit, captain Schultz emerges from the cockpit. I took a walk through just to have eye contact and speak to them. We wanted to know if they were okay. I was so in shock. I didn't realize who she was. I said, man, the guy that landed this thing is really awesome. You wanted to go shake the hands of the guys who landed the aircraft. She turned and looked at me and said "I landed this bird." Cool, cool lady. As a condition of our interview, we agreed not to ask them about the NTSB investigation while it's still pending. NTSB investigators have determined what went wrong, a broken fan blade. The fan blade, it separated in two places. There are 24 fan blades on that engine used to suck in massive amounts of air to propel the plane forward. Cracks invisible to the neighborhood eye had formed in two places on one of those blades and when it broke, debris somehow blew apart the protective housing called the cowelling and a piece of that cowelling crashed into the window. It's a really good engine and these fan blades are supposed to last for 60,000 flights. Southwest and the engine manufacturer expressed condolences to all affected and said they're working together to correct all the planes in the fleet. These engine have been flying for 20 years on 737s. Generally aviation is safer than it's ever been. Given what you've been through, do you feel safe in that airplane? Absolutely. Absolutely. Healing comes at different speeds for different people. I think that it makes you realize how precious every single moment of your life is. I'm thankful that god put the people on that plane to land it safely. We did what we were trained for. People in the back of the plane were very heroic. They paid for a seat in the back to relax and they were up and at it to help. It's always stirring when you get to see heroics in other people.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.