Airline Captain Dies En Route


The captain of an American Airlines A320 died during a flight on Monday from Phoenix to Boston, according to an airline official. Few details have been released about the pilot, but officials said the death was due to an illness. The flight diverted to Syracuse, N.Y., and landed shortly after 7 a.m. In a statement to the media, an airline spokesperson said,“Unfortunately, our pilot passed away. We are incredibly saddened by this event and we are focused on caring for our pilot’s family and colleagues.”There were 147 passengers and five crew aboard the flight.A new crew was sent to Syracuse to take over the flight and continue to Boston.

With thousands of flights worldwide every day, the death of a crew member en route is not unprecedented. In 2009, a captain died midway across the Atlantic on a Continental Airlines flight from Belgium to Newark. In 2008, it happened on a British Airways flight from Manchester to Cyprus, and in 2007, a Continental pilot died en route from Houston to Mexico. In every case, the remaining crew landed the airplane without incident. Passengers were not notified, or were told that the airplane was diverting due to an ill person on board. According to the FAA, since 1994, seven pilots for U.S. airlines have died during a flight.

In audio from, controllers during Monday’s incident provide a quick descent, an open gate, and emergency medical personnel to meet the flight. On Tuesday, American Airlines identified the pilot as Michael Johnston, age 57. Johnston’s wife told CNN he had double-bypass surgery in 2006 and she was told he likely died of a heart attack. Johnston had flown for the airline for 27 years. The couple lived in Utah and had eight children.