An American Airlines pilot died suddenly during a flight early Monday, leaving the plane’s co-pilot officer to make an emergency landing with 152 people on board.
Early Tuesday, American Airlines formally identified the pilot as Captain Michael Johnston, 57. A statement from the airline said Johnson had broken into the commercial aviation industry as a first officer for America West Airlines in 1990. The statement did not specify how Johnston had died.
Fox news reports that the Airbus 320 was en-route from Phoenix to Boston and had to be diverted to Syracuse. Before the flight landed there, the first officer called the airport tower and said “American 550. Medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated.”
US Federal Aviation Administration said the scenario is rare, but not unheard of as seven pilots for U.S. airlines and one charter pilot have died during flights since 1994, according to the
In a recording of his exchange with the tower, the unidentified first officer expresses concern over whether ambulance medics can get on the plane quickly. He is assured they can and is told to go into a gate where the medics would meet the plane.
“[The crew] took extraordinary care of Mike, each other and our customers,” the statement from American said. “We couldn’t be more proud of the teamwork this crew showed during an extremely difficult time. Our airport teams in Syracuse and Boston were also instrumental in assisting our customers, and their handling is also greatly appreciated.”
A replacement crew was sent to Syracuse, and the plane, an Airbus A320, landed in Boston at 12:30 p.m.147 passengers and five crew members were onboard.