An American Airlines pilot became ill and later died during a domestic flight from Phoenix to Boston, with the co-pilot diverting the aircraft to Syracuse, New York.
Airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely says Flight 550 left Phoenix at 11.55pm local time on Sunday and was diverted mid-flight, landing shortly after.
She said after the flight’s captain was stricken, the first officer safely landed the plane with 147 passengers and five crew members onboard.
“We are incredibly saddened by this event, and we are focused on caring for our pilot’s family and colleagues,” the airline statement said on Monday.
Details of the medical emergency and the identity of the deceased pilot weren’t immediately released. It also wasn’t clear when the pilot died.
Before the flight landed at Syracuse, the first officer called the airport tower and said in a calm voice, “American 550. Medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated.” He requested a runway to land.
In a recording of his exchange with the tower, the officer expresses concern whether ambulance medics can get on the plane quickly. He’s assured that they can, and is told to go to a gate where the medics would meet the plane.
Passenger Louise Anderson, who was heading from Reno, Nevada, to Boston via Phoenix, said she had dozed off on the flight.
“What I woke up to was the flight attendant telling us we were making an emergency landing because the pilot was ill,” she said.
She said rumours were circulating of the pilot’s death in the Syracuse airport, but they were only confirmed by an announcement on their make-up flight to Boston.
Anderson said the mood on board then was sombre, but she commended the crew’s handling of a tragic situation.
Huguely said a replacement crew was sent to Syracuse and the plane, an Airbus A320, landed at Boston at 12.30pm.