Live

Watch CBSN Live

American Airlines pilot dies mid-flight

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - An American Airlines pilot got sick during a flight from Phoenix to Boston and later died in the cockpit, and the co-pilot ended up landing the plane safely in Syracuse, N.Y.

CBS affiliate KUTV reports that the pilot has identified as Michael Johnston of West Jordan, Utah. His wife says she's been told that her husband likely died of a heart attack.

The cause of the pilot's death and his name have not been released by officials.

6198df06-fd9b-4f87-8a18-7b68eab626a7-large16x9kutvmichaeljohnstonamericanairlines.jpg
Michael Johnston. CBS affiliate WKMG

KUTV reports that Johnston, 57, lives in West Jordan, Utah, and has been flying for well over 25 years, according to his family.

BJ Johnston tells KUTV she's been told that her husband likely died of a heart attack. Johnston says her husband had a double bypass surgery in 2006. Since that time he has been required to get a physical every 6 months to make sure he was healthy enough to fly.

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

Johnston says her husband was in good health when he left recently to begin flying. She says her husband's body will be flown to Utah by tomorrow.

Lt. Eric Carr with the Syracuse Police Department confirmed to CBS News that a 57-year-old male pilot was found deceased on plane at approximately 6:45 a.m. local time. Medics pronounced him dead at the scene.

He was taken to the county medical examiner. Autopsy is being conducted now, but there are no signs of foul play.

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.

In audio from the cockpit obtained by CBS Boston by Live ATC.net, which provides live air traffic control broadcasts, the co-pilot is heard calling the control tower, "A medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated, request handling for runway one zero landing."

The flight, an A320 also known as US Airways Flight 550, ended up landing at Logan Airport at 12:30 p.m. local time. There were 147 passengers on board.

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.

The passengers described a hard landing in Syracuse and did not know at the time why they were there.

They said EMTs did not rush onto the plane, leading them to believe the pilot had died.

They did not know if he passed away in-flight or after landing.

The passengers praised the co-pilot who they said appeared calm during the entire incident.

"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 the FAA, seven pilots for U.S. airlines and one charter pilot have died during flights since 1994.