Off-Duty Pilot Helps Land Southwest Flight After Pilot Becomes Unwell

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
March 24, 2023US News
Off-Duty Pilot Helps Land Southwest Flight After Pilot Becomes Unwell
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-73V jet departs Midway International Airport in Chicago, Ill., on April 6, 2021. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Passengers were lucky to have an off-duty pilot on their flight Wednesday who helped out after the plane’s pilot suffered a severe medical emergency.

Southwest Airlines Flight 6013 had just departed from Las Vegas to Columbus, Ohio. An airline representative told Nexstar that one of the pilots became incapacitated due to a medical emergency.

Fortunately, a credentialed pilot from a different airline was a passenger aboard the same flight. This pilot entered the cockpit to help with communications while the Southwest co-pilot flew the plane, a Boeing 737 carrying 143 people, back to Las Vegas.

The incident happened on Wednesday and was recorded by LiveATC. From the recording, it can be heard that the airplane’s captain complained about stomach pains shortly after take-off. About five minutes later, the 47-year-old pilot “fainted or became incapacitated.”

After a minute or so, the pilot regained consciousness and was taken to the back of the plane for medical assistance. “We had him on oxygen; he’s been in the back with a nurse since then,” the impromptu assistant pilot can be heard saying.

The flight, destined for Columbus, Ohio, landed safely at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas at around 7:50 a.m. that day, a little more than an hour after take-off.

Just before landing, the stand-in pilot informed flight control that the captain was still in bad shape: “We need to get him on an ambulance immediately.” Emergency vehicles were sent to the runway.

After landing in Las Vegas, an alternate flight crew flew the passengers to Columbus.

An airline representative commended the crew’s professionalism and thanked the passengers for their patience and understanding during the situation.

Officials told Nexstar that pilots are trained to fly solo during emergencies such as this, and a flight attendant could have stepped in to assist if no other pilot was present.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating the incident, but no details about the pilot’s medical issue have been released. While rare, similar cases of pilots becoming incapacitated have occurred.

In the spring of last year, a man with no flying experience successfully landed a small plane at Palm Beach International after the 64-year-old pilot lost consciousness.

The incident highlights the importance of having trained flight personnel who can handle emergencies.

It also highlights the need for airlines to have adequate policies to ensure passengers’ safety is not compromised.