As I’m sure many of you have read by now, Sunday night’s AA550 flight from PHX-BOS was diverted to Syracuse after the pilot died in the cockpit during the flight.
An American Airlines pilot died mid-flight but the plane landed safely when the co-pilot took over the controls http://t.co/fLATU12Ebr
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) October 5, 2015
I read the headline early Monday morning with some additional interest because I knew my best friend’s dad was on a redeye back home to Boston after visiting family here in Phoenix.
I didn’t think it would be his flight because he’s normally a pretty loyal Delta guy. But, my friend emailed a little later in the morning to tell me his dad was indeed onboard.
I had a chance to talk to him today about the flight and here’s what he told me.
The plane had a big and unexpected “bump” followed by a short descent just prior to an announcement from a member of the crew.
The very brief announcement indicated the pilot was sick and the copilot was taking over and would land the plane as quickly as possible.
Because he was in the back of the plane, he couldn’t see if there was any commotion near the cockpit. But, first class passengers said they couldn’t see anything either because everything took place in the cockpit.
5-10 minutes after the announcement they were on the ground in Syracuse and were met by paramedics and rescue crews right away.
All passengers were kept in their seats while the emergency responders boarded the plane. Eventually they put up a sheet at the front of the plane to obscure anyone’s view.
Then, about an hour after the flight landed the decision was made to deplane. At that point everyone made their way into the terminal and waited for an update from airport staff.
Passengers spent approximately three hours on the ground in Syracuse unaware of the exact reason for the diversion. Some people read on their phones that someone died. But it wasn’t until they finally boarded the flight to BOS with a new crew that they were told the pilot had died on the flight.
The final flight to BOS was uneventful as passengers processed the news. Upon landing, many passengers were met by media wanting to interview them about their experience. My friend’s dad just wanted to get home and get some sleep.
Hearing him describe the situation, I couldn’t help but think how well the entire situation was handled. It also drives home the importance of safety protocols like always having two people in the cockpit. And I’m thankful commercial pilots must undergo a full physical every six months to catch health problems that could lead to emergencies in the air like this.
It’s certainly a sad situation for the pilot’s family but very fortunate for everyone else on board that the crew handled the emergency remarkably well.