An American Airlines pilot died after becoming ill during a red eye flight from Phoenix to Boston on Monday morning, but the co-pilot landed the aircraft safely after it was diverted to Syracuse, New York, reported the Arizona Republic
Pilot Michael Johnston, 57, of West Jordan, Utah, was pronounced dead after the airliner landed in Syracuse, according to KUTV
. His wife Betty Jean Johnston told the Utah television station that her husband had double bypass surgery in 2006 and required a physical every six months to make sure he was healthy enough to fly.
The Arizona Republic reported that Johnston had been flying since 1990 when he started his career as a pilot for America West Airlines.
reported that a new crew took the 147 passengers on board American Flight 550 from Syracuse to their final destination in Boston.
Steve Wallace, member of the Federal Aviation Administration's accident investigations office from 2000 to 2008, told WCVB-TV that it is unusual for a pilot to become incapacitated during flight. The television station said pilots must past annual physicals and every six months if they are 40 and over.
"What is important is the consistent result – the plane lands safely," Wallace said to WCVB-TV. "The copilot is fully qualified to fly the airplane. It's rare, but they train for it."
"All of us at American extend our condolences to Mike's wife, Betty Jean, and to his entire family,'' American chief executive Doug Parker said in a letter to employees, noted the Republic.
"They have lost a husband and father, and many of you have lost a personal friend. Taking care of Mike's family is our focus now, and I know you'll join me in keeping them in your thoughts and prayers,'' Parker added.
"I want to take a moment to thank Mike's crewmembers on Flight #550," Parker wrote in his letter to employees. "They took extraordinary care of Mike, each other and our customers. 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."
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