Alaska Airlines representatives help rebook passengers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seatac, Washington January 19, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
For the second time in 10 days, an airplane pilot passed out while flying an aircraft due to the flu. On Thursday night, Alaska Airlines flight 473, which was flying from Los Angeles to Seattle, was diverted to Portland, Ore. after the pilot lost consciousness. The plane was on autopilot and the first officer took over and safely diverted it, landing at Portland International Airport around 9:00 p.m. The pilot was then taken to the hospital by paramedics.
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"The flight attendant was going up and down the aisles asking for help," said Rita Slobodkin, a passenger on the flight to KGW. "We didn't know if it was the pilot or co-pilot, didn't know who was flying the plane or if it was going to land."
"He came out of the cockpit and collapsed, hit his head on something," said Hylan Slobodkin. "Fortunately a fourth-year medical student ran to his aid."
Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan confirmed that a similar incident occurred on January 22 when a pilot passed out on Flight 606 from Seattle to Las Vegas because of flu-like symptons.
The flight contained 116 passengers and five crew members who didn't arrive in Seattle until after 1 a.m. after taking off around 6:30 pm.
The pilot has been flying for Alaska for 28 years and had no prior medical issues, while the co-pilot has 11 years experience.
Jim Hummel, a retired American Airlines pilot, said these situations show the importance of having a co-pilot on commercial flights. The first officer had a busy time flying for two, he said, manning radios, staying airborne properly and preparing for a landing at the closest airport that can handle the plane. And, he added, keeping emotions in check. "Just the fact that you are concerned for the safety of the guy who fell ill, you just want to get there as quickly and as safely as possible," Hummel said. "So you want to make sure you've done everything that you are supposed to do."