Pilot dies during flight, forcing passenger plane to make emergency landing

The plane was forced to land in Sycaruse

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The Independent US

An American Airlines flight was forced to make an emergency landing after the captain fell ill and later died.

Flight 550, which had left Phoenix, Arizona, for Boston, Massachusetts, at 11:55pm local time, was forced divert to Sycaruse, New York, shortly after 7am EDT (11am GMT) after the flight’s captain was stricken, according to airline spokeswoman Andrea Huguely. 

Some 147 passengers and five crew members were on-board the plane as the first officer safely landed the plane in the city.  

In a recording of his exchange with the airport tower before landing he can be heard calmly saying:  “American 550. Medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated”. 

He then stresses that paramedics must get on the plane quickly in order to treat the pilot. 

Passenger Louise Anderson said she had fallen asleep on the flight before it was announed that the pilot was unwell.

“What I woke up to was the flight attendant telling us we were making an emergency landing because the pilot was ill,” she said.

Ms Anderson went on to praise the crew's handling of the incident, and said the mood on board then was sombre.

The airline said it was “incredibly saddened” by the pilot’s death.

“We are focused on caring for our pilot's family and colleagues,” the statement went on. 

The plane was able to complete its trip to Boston after a replacement crew was sent to Sycaruse. 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. 

In order to keep passengers safe, airline pilots are required to pass annual physical examinations, rising to every six months for captains 40 or older.

Since 1994, only seven pilots for US airlines and one charter pilot have died during flights since 1994, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).


Steve Wallace, who led the FAA accident-investigations office from 2000 to 2008, said it was rare for a pilot to become incapacitated.

“What is important is the consistent result - the plane lands safely,” he said. “The co-pilot is fully qualified to fly the airplane. It's rare but they train for it.”

Additional reporting by AP and PA