An American Airlines pilot became incapacitated and later died during an early red-eye flight from Phoenix to Boston on Monday. The company has yet to release the pilot's name or details on what caused his death. The plane's co-pilot took over the controls of the Airbus A320 and safely landed the 147-passenger flight in Syracuse around 7AM ET in an emergency attempt to get the pilot medical attention. The flight originally departed shortly after midnight on Monday.
"Syracuse, American 550, medical emergency, captain is incapacitated, request handling for runway," the co-pilot said, according to a transcript of the flight's communications. "American Airlines Flight 550 diverted to Syracuse Hancock International Airport (SYR) early this morning due to pilot illness," the airline confirmed in a statement. "Unfortunately, our pilot passed away." A replacement crew took over duties for the flight's remaining path from Syracuse to Boston. "We are incredibly saddened by this event and we are focused on caring for our pilot's family and colleagues," American Airlines said.
Pilots must undergo regular physicals to remain at the helm of commercial flights, and planes are equipped with emergency gear like defibrillators. Despite these precautions, mid-flight health emergencies and deaths are by no means unprecedented. In 2009, for instance, a Continental pilot died after suffering a heart attack in the cockpit; in that case, co-pilots guided the plane to safety and passengers were mostly none the wiser as to what had happened. Two years earlier, another Continental flight experienced a similar emergency.