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Published on Tuesday, October 6, 2015

FAA: Pilot deaths mid-flight are extremely rare

The death of a pilot midflight on a Phoenix-Boston flight on Monday was only the eighth during a commercial flight in more than 20 years, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
 
A red-eye American Airlines flight was forced to divert to Syracuse, NY early Monday after the pilot was incapacitated, according to air traffic control.
 
The plane landed safely with the co-pilot at the controls of the Airbus A320 aircraft.
 
The pilot, named as Captain Michael Johnston, 57, was declared dead by authorities at Syracuse.
 
The medical examiner at Onondaga County, New York said the cause of death was 'natural causes,' without giving specific details.
 
The rare occurrence of a mid-flight death in the cockpit is put down to the stringent medical checks flight crew have to undergo.
 
"The reason that it is only eight is that to fly commercial passenger service, pilots over the age of 40 are required to get medical checkups every six months," said aviation attorney Mary Schiavo, who is a former inspector general at the US Department of Transportation. 
 
"Medicine's pretty good at identifying these problems."
 
The FAA has a mandatory retirement age for flight crew of 65.
 
Another industry expert said the incident highlights the importance of comprehensive, regular medical exams for pilots.
 
"We need to be sure these pilots are having state-of-the-art physicals on a very regular basis. Their physical standards need to be higher than other professions," "said Gail Dunham, executive director of the National Air Disaster Foundation. 
 
"It's up to the FAA to be sure pilot physicals are meeting the highest standards possible," Dunham said.
 
Flight 550 which was carrying 147 passengers was delayed in Syracuse about four hours awaiting a replacement crew to continue the journey to Boston.
 

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