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Why are commercial airline pilots suddenly passing out or dying at the wheel?


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(NaturalNews) Just recently, and quite unusually, back-to-back mishaps involving two commercial airline pilots occurred mid-flight.

The first incident, as reported by CBS News, involved an American Airlines pilot who died midair from as yet unknown causes.

According to one of the network's local affiliates, the pilot, identified as Michael Johnston of West Jordan, Utah, was commanding a flight from Boston to Phoenix on October 5. Reports said he first became ill during the flight and later died in the cockpit, with the co-pilot safely landing the plane after it diverted to Syracuse, New York.

Johnston's wife said her husband likely died of a heart attack; however, as of this writing, no official autopsy confirmation of that claim has yet been reported.

In what could only be deemed a similar and highly unlikely occurrence, the next day, a United Airlines co-pilot suddenly lost consciousness in the cockpit aboard a flight from Houston to San Francisco, forcing the plane to be diverted to Albuquerque International Su1nport in New Mexico.

A spokesperson for United later told the local CBS affiliate in an email that "United flight 1614...diverted to Albuquerque this morning when a crew member became ill. The aircraft landed safely. We're working to get the customers to their final destinations."

Mystery behind the double mishap

What's going on? Airline pilots don't just die or fall unconscious behind the stick. They are supposed to be rigorously examined for health issues on a regular basis and grounded if anything is found to be out of order. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration noted that only seven pilots for U.S. airlines and one charter pilot have died during flights since 1994, according to CBS News.

As for Johnston, 57, he had been flying commercially for more than 25 years already. Although greatly experienced in his field, Johnston, according to his wife, has had double bypass heart surgery in 2006. Since then, he had been required to get a physical every six months to make sure he was still healthy enough to continue with his duties.

"He has had problems with his heart," Johnston's wife told KUTV. "But he seemed perfectly fine."

As CBS News further reported:

"CBS affiliate WTVH in Syracuse reports Flight 550 left Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport last night and was scheduled to land in Boston at 8 a.m. The plane ended up landing safely in Syracuse at about 7:10 a.m."

Co-pilot took over the situation

In an audio from the cockpit obtained by CBS Boston, via LiveATC.net, a site that provides live air traffic control broadcasts, the co-pilot was heard contacting the control tower:

"A medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated, request handling for runway one zero landing."

There were 147 passengers on board the Airbus 320, also known as US Airways Flight 550.

"Describing the incident to reporters in Boston, passengers said there was a quick descent, they felt some turbulence and then a member of the flight crew announced that the captain wasn't feeling well," CBS News reported.

Other passengers recounted a hard landing in Syracuse, and that at the time, they were not told why the plane had been diverted. Nevertheless, they praised the co-pilot who appeared unfazed throughout the ordeal.

"This is a terribly sad event and American Airlines is focused on caring for the pilot's family at this time, as well as the American Airlines staff and passengers on board the flight," the airline spokeswoman said.

According to Globalnews.ca, when there is a death or illness in the cockpit of a commercial aircraft, the co-pilot takes over and begins to initiate emergency measures, such as notifying the control tower, getting emergency personnel in place and making arrangements to land the plane by finding out where to divert.

UPDATE: A local Fox affiliate reported that an autopsy revealed that Johnston died from "natural causes." No word yet on why the United pilot became ill.

Sources:

CBSNews.com

Fox9.com

GlobalNews.ca
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