By Katherine LaGrave. Photos: Alamy.
An American Airlines pilot died on Wednesday during the final phase of landing on Flight 1353 from Dallas-Forth Worth to Albuquerque, New Mexico. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, and reported by CNN, the Boeing 737-800 was two miles from landing when the plane's captain declared an emergency. According to NBC News, the captain radioed for help, telling the tower: "We've got an issue with one of the pilots."
The aircraft nevertheless managed to land safely, and paramedics were waiting at the gate. Sources say CPR was performed, but attempts to revive the plane's first officer, William "Mike" Grubbs, were unsuccessful. No immediate cause of death has been identified.
Death or incapacitation of a flight crew member is statistically rare, considering the number of planes in the sky—there are nearly 30,000 commercial flights per day in the U.S., alone. Nevertheless, it does happen: In May of 2015, an off-duty pilot had to help co-land a plane on a Jet Airways flight from Bangkok to Delhi after the captain fell ill. Months later, in October 2015, an American Airlines pilot on a flight from Phoenix to Boston died of natural causes; the flight nevertheless managed to land safely after being diverted to Syracuse, New York. While a single pilot can safely manage all of the tasks during final approach, it significantly adds to the responsibilities: Autopilot is usually turned off, for example, and pilots must take manual control to land the aircraft.
According to commercial airline pilot Patrick Smith, protocol on what to do in the event of pilot incapacitation depends largely on carrier, the location of the flight, and the events leading up to the medical emergency. In the event of a death, cabin crew will move the body away from passengers, if possible, and protocol is typically for the plane to land at the nearest commercial airport able to handle the specific type of aircraft.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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