Shults was one of the first female fighter pilots for the U.S. Navy and was inspired to fly when she was young.
She said she tried to go to an aviation career day during high school, but couldn't because girls were not allowed, Reuters reported.
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Shults is a 1983 graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, The Associated Press reported.
She applied to the Air Force, but the branch of the military would not let her take the test to be a pilot. She switched to the Navy, because it would.
She was one of the first female F-18 pilots before becoming an instructor. She left the Navy in 1993 to work for Southwest, Reuters reported.
Shults is married to another pilot and has two children.
The AP reported flight 1380 passenger Alfred Tumlinson said of Shults, "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."
Passengers told the AP that Shults walked through the plane making sure they were OK as soon as they got on the ground.
The flight left New York with 149 people on board. One person died and seven more were injured when a piece of the engine exploded and a piece of shrapnel broke a window and damaged the plane, the AP reported.