Off-Duty Pilot Assists After Southwest Captain Suffers Medical Emergency


A pilot from another airline was called to the flight deck to assist the crew on Southwest Flight 6013 on Wednesday after the captain suffered a medical emergency. A nurse reportedly provided medical assistance to the captain onboard after he was removed from the cockpit. Further details regarding the captain’s current condition and the nature of the medical emergency have not been made public.

“A credentialed pilot from another airline, who was on board, entered the flight deck and assisted with radio communication while our Southwest pilot flew the aircraft,” Southwest said. “We greatly appreciate their support and assistance.”

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-700, was enroute from Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, Nevada, to John Glenn International (CMH) in Columbus, Ohio. It diverted back to LAS following the emergency, landing after one hour and 17 minutes in the air. Operated by an alternate crew, the flight departed for Columbus again after about three hours. The FAA is investigating the incident.

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Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. When I was active duty in the Air Force, I was traveling in uniform, and sat next to a couple of young women traveling together (one with a baby in arms). They asked if I was a pilot, I said yes, and one of them said, “Then if something happened to the pilots, you could land the plane?” My answer was, yes, I could, but that only happens in the movies. I guess sometimes, life imitates art. Although using “art” and “Airplane” in the same sentence seems a stretch.

    They also asked if I was a father, and I said, “I found this in my pocket as my meeting was starting this morning.”, and pulled a pacifier out of my pocket.

    • unless the first officer is a green newhire, and lacking experience in that model, and the plane is in challenging IFR, my take is that he, or she, would be able to safely handle the return and make a safe landing. Our training is comprehensive and covers all manner of contingencies including resourceful solutions to flight challenges not in the book; like this incapacitated Captain. A scenario of “certain death” would not be my view of possible outcome. In flight, pilots discuss likely challenges- I experienced many in my 25K hours of flight over 42 years, so would not be overly concerned.

  2. This is a terrible story. There should be a clear priority to calling pilots to the cockpit–student pilots first, then general aviation, and only as a last resort, a credentialed pilot from another airline.

    The NFL also refuses to listen to me. When the quarterback goes down, a seat number should be drawn at random, a uniform provided, and the fan goes in. Only after the possession ends should the so-called “backup quarterback” be allowed to play.

    • ezy-pzy fix — just require all aircrew to submit to a new 1st class prior to boarding a given flight.
      (probably no more stupid than anything else coming out of governmental bowels these past few years).

      Meanwhile, having a competitor’s cockpit certified come in and help probably just deflated the feelings of many a newbie GA pilot and his thoughts of grandeur

  3. Has happened for years, but fortunately not often. Years back I remember a Tiger Connie on final to BUR. Captain had sudden heart attack and fell forward on the yoke. Plane plunged forward and was too late for the FO to recover it. My hanger neighbor, recently retired FedEx Capt owned and frequently flew his Aztec. While at the Ford dealership getting an oil change in his truck, had sudden and fatal heart attack while sitting in the truck. He was still on a 1st class med. I’d just given him a BFR a month or so before. Thinking of the Tiger crash, made me wonder if my friend had done that in the Aztec while on final, would I have been able to process it and recover the plane in time. Ya never know.

  4. Either the news media is hypersensitive to pilot incapacitations now and reporting has increased or there really are more pilot incapacitations. Seems like at least 1-2 a week are being reported now. This was last week. The week before was the BA captain who die of a heart attack in the hotel just before getting the bus to the airport. Just the other day I was talking with a former pilot who lost his medical due to “vaccine injury” (his words).