An American Airlines pilot fell ill during a flight from Phoenix to Boston and later died in the cockpit. The co-pilot landed the plane safely in Syracuse, N.Y. Monday.
Officials have yet to release the cause of death or the pilot’s name. They are working on notifying the next of kin. An airline official only said the death was from “illness,” CNN reports.
The Syracuse Police Department’s Lt. Eric Carr told CBS News that the 57-year-old pilot was found dead at roughly 6:45 a.m. local time. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
He was taken to the county medical examiner and an autopsy is now being conducted. There are no signs of foul play, CBS reports.
“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,” an airline spokeswoman said.
According to USA Today, safety experts say passengers were never at risk. The first officers, or co-pilots, are trained to fly alone, and the Federal Aviation Administration requires two crew members to be in the cockpit at all times in case of emergency.
First officers typically serve as the pilot-in-control of their plane for nearly half of the time they are in the air. To this day, one of the primary reasons commercial flights require that at least two qualified pilots are aboard so that one is available if the other dies or is otherwise incapacitated, Forbes reports.
There were 147 passengers and four crew members aboard American Airlines Flight 550, according to Forbes. One passenger, Louise Anderson, said she dozed off during the flight, but she woke to a somber mood on board. “What I woke up to was the flight attendant telling us we were making an emergency landing because the pilot was ill,” she said.
Passengers said that the descent was quick and felt some turbulence. Then, a flight crew announced the captain wasn’t feeling well.
When they landed, they did not know they were in Syracuse. EMTs did not rush onto the plane, leading them to think he was dead.