Pilot dies mid-flight; plane lands safely in NJ

June 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A plane with 247-passengers landed safely, after its pilot died in mid-flight over the Atlantic. Two co-pilots took the controls of the continental jumbo jet and guided it to earth.Passengers say aside from some turbulence, there was nothing unsettling about their roughly 8-hour flight from Brussels, Belgium to Newark, New Jersey.

Passenger Susan Morgan said, "We were about halfway through the flight, over the ocean, when they called for a doctor, people came forward, it was fairly quiet."

The cardiologist who answered the call says he's saved many lives before but in this case, even after trying CPR, it was too late.

Continental Airlines says the 60-year-old pilot of Flight 61, died of natural causes in his seat, an apparent heart attack. His body was removed from the cockpit and taken to the crew rest area.

There was a first officer and relief pilot onboard. The two co-pilots were at the controls when the plane landed safely at Newark just before noon.

ABC News Aviation Consultant John Nance said, "The reason we have two pilots is for this contingency, two brains, two sets of eyes, the other pilot is seamlessly able to carry on."

The mandatory retirement age for pilots was originally 60. But just last year, Congress agreed to raise the age to 65.

"It is ... the age 60 rule was ... there are people 45 years of age who suddenly die of heart attack," said Nance.

Many passengers said they were only concerned after the plane landed when they saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles along the runway.

A captain is required to undergo a physical every six months. This pilot was based in Newark and had worked for Continental for 32 years.

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