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Passengers were never in danger as an experienced co-pilot landed the aircraft after the pilot had fainted.
The Alaska Airlines pilot who lost consciousness during a Seattle-bound flight Thursday night, prompting an emergency landing, was suffering from food poisoning or a stomach virus, an airline spokesman said Friday.
The co-pilot of Flight 473 safely landed the jetliner in Portland, Ore., after declaring an emergency to get priority care for the pilot, spokesman Paul McElroy said. All of the airline’s pilots are trained to fly single-handedly.
McElroy said the pilot was in good condition Friday at a hospital where doctors examined him. The airline declined to release the pilot’s name or age.
The Boeing 737-700 with 116 passengers and five crew members left Los Angeles at about 6:30 p.m. and had been scheduled to arrive in Seattle at 9:30 p.m. It touched down in Portland at about 9 p.m.
The pilot lost consciousness near Eugene, Ore., and hit his head, McElroy said. He then later regained consciousness and left the cockpit. A doctor aboard the flight tended to the pilot in the cabin until the plane landed and was met by medical personnel on the runway.
Passenger Hylan Slobodkin told KOMO News that he saw the pilot pass out when he went into the cabin.
“Came out of the cockpit and collapsed on the aisle,” he said. “Hit his head on something and called doctors, and fortunately there was a young woman who was a fourth-year medical student who ran to his aid.”
McElroy said the pilot has been flying for Seattle-based Alaska Air Group Inc. for 28 years and was current on his six-month medical evaluation. The co-pilot is an 11-year Alaska Air veteran.
On Jan. 22, the co-pilot on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Las Vegas fainted briefly, and the pilot requested emergency landing priority to get prompt medical assistance for him.
“At this point we do not believe there was a connection between the two incidents,” McElroy said.
He said pilots are highly encouraged to report if they’re not feeling well, but in both of the recent cases, the “pilots felt fine when they reported for duty.” Their dizziness and fainting came very suddenly, he said.
Twenty passengers with a tight schedule for connecting flights were put on a Horizon Air shuttle flight to Seattle on Thursday night, McElroy said. A new pilot was dispatched to Portland to fly the remaining passengers to Seattle on the same plane.
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