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What happen when a pilot suffers a heart attack in the air?

All co-pilots have been trained to handle such an emergency as part as their normal duties besides assisting the Captain. In fact, they are trained to take over at the most critical stage of the flight, usually during automatic landing when a Captain becomes incapacitated just before touch down, especially when he fails to respond to any check list. There are special procedures to recognize an incapacitation at these critical moment. The co-pilot will automatically take over when certain responses are not forthcoming as it would be too late to clarify whether it was alright with him. So stringent procedures are there to take care of such a problem.

It is not a major problem when a co-pilot lands the aircraft if the Captain has a heart attack as he has been very well trained to do so. It is not to say that it would be easy, for he has to work extra hard to land safely. If the Captain slump over and obstruct the flying controls, the co-pilot will usually seek the assistant of the cabin crew to secure the Captain firmly with his safety belts onto his seat. If he has difficulty in landing the aircraft, he will just press a button on the flying control column and the aircraft will abort the landing, giving the copilot a chance to sort out the situation before attempting a second landing.

There have been many cases whereby the Captain was incapacitated and the copilot was able to land the aircraft successfully. One incident involved a hijack attempt in Japan Airlines recently where the Captain was killed by the hijacker and the copilot landed the aircraft without any problem.


Information of Interest to Passengers

  • See Newspaper report by Associated Press below:

    Taipeh, Mon. - A China Airlines pilot suffered a heart attack today en route to Vietnam, forcing the co pilot to abort the flight and make a quick turnaround back to Taipeh.

    Captain G.I Gueorguiev, 45, lost consciousness about 40 minutes after Flight CI 652 took off for Ho Chi Minh City, so 27 years old co pilot Lin Hsin took control and landed the plane safely, company spokesman Scott Shih said.

    None of the 259 passengers were injured, and the Airbus A300-600 took off again by late morning with a new pilot at the controls.

    Gueorguiev, a Bulgarian, was immediately sent to hospital and "showed no signs of life", although doctors did not immediately pronounce him dead, Shih said. Doctors said the pilot had a heart attack. - AP.

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