Pilot from another airline helps land Southwest flight after captain falls ill

A pilot from another airline helped to land a Southwest Airlines flight that departed early Wednesday from Las Vegas after its captain became “incapacitated” and required medical attention, according to the airline and radio traffic data, in an episode that surprised some passengers who had no clue a pilot had fallen ill.

Southwest Flight 6013 had taken off just after 6:30 a.m. and was bound for Columbus, Ohio, according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware. While airborne, one of its pilots “needed medical attention,” a spokesperson for the airline said, without giving details about the health issue.

In radio traffic archived by the website LiveATC, a person can be heard saying that the captain had started to feel stomach pain and then “fainted or became incapacitated” around five minutes later.

The person says the captain “came back” around 60 seconds later and was being looked after in the back of the plane. “We need to get him on an ambulance immediately,” the person says.

Las Vegas resident Diane McGlinchey, who was on the flight with her husband, told NBC News on Thursday that she didn’t notice any panic when crew members initially came on the plane’s public announcement system to ask if there was medical personnel on board.

A passenger sitting up front who said she was a nurse put on her call light to help, McGlinchey said. She added that she and her husband had been at the back of the plane and didn’t notice it was the pilot who needed aid, but knew that the ill person was with the nurse in her row.

The crew “calmly just would give us an update saying we’re going to go back to Las Vegas, we have a medical emergency on board,” McGlinchey said.

Meanwhile, a credentialed pilot from another airline who was on board as a passenger entered the flight deck and assisted with radio communication as the second Southwest pilot flew the aircraft, according to the airline.

“We greatly appreciate their support and assistance,” the spokesperson said of the pilot who stepped in.

According to FlightAware, the plane returned to Las Vegas’ Harry Reid International Airport at about 7:50 a.m. A Southwest spokesperson said the plane landed safely and an alternate crew took over, operating the flight to Columbus.

“We commend the crew for their professionalism and appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding regarding the situation,” the spokesperson said.

McGlinchey said she and her husband didn’t realize it was the pilot who had had the medical emergency until after the plane landed. EMS and fire officials were already waiting, she added.

“That’s when the pilot did come on and say that they were taking the captain off the plane,” McGlinchey said.

The other pilot from another plane who was on board as a passenger happened to also be in his uniform, she added, and no one seemed anxious or worried when the flight turned around to go back to Las Vegas.

We were “very thankful that he was there,” McGlinchey said of the pilot who intervened. “I’m positive that the first officer would have been able to land smoothly, but it definitely made it, I’m sure, easier for him to have someone there to do the radio part while he was landing the plane. So it went…

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