Southwest Airlines officials confirmed Wednesday that an off-duty pilot flying as a passenger on a flight out of Las Vegas helped take control of the aircraft shortly after takeoff when the plane’s captain suffered a medical emergency.
Southwest Flight 6013 departed Las Vegas, Nevada, around 6:30 a.m., heading to Columbus, Ohio, when the captain fainted from stomach pain, according to ABC. Air traffic control audio obtained by CNN recorded a flight crew member notifying officials that “the captain became incapacitated while en route.”
Chris Perry, a spokesperson for the airline, told The New York Post a credentialed pilot from another airline flying with Southwest entered the cockpit and “assisted with radio communication while our Southwest Pilot flew the aircraft.”
According to air traffic audio reported by ABC, the unidentified off-duty pilot notified control tower operators that flight attendants were with the Southwest pilot in the back of the aircraft.
“But we need to get him on an ambulance immediately,” the pilot told air traffic controllers, according to air traffic audio.
Airline officials said the pilot re-routed the aircraft to Las Vegas, where emergency health crews stood by to attend to the captain’s medical needs. Southwest arranged an alternate flight crew to transport the passengers to their destination.
“We commend the crew for their professionalism and appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding regarding the situation,” Southwest said in a statement.
Southwest officials did not immediately disclose the pilot’s condition.
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Southwest told The Post it was “standard procedure” to “request assistance from traveling medical personnel during in-flight medical events.”
“This situation just so happened to involve one of our Employees,” the airline said
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has begun investigating the incident, reminding flight personnel of the “need for continued vigilance and attention to mitigation of safety risks.”
FAA authorities issued a safety alert amid six runway incidents since January, including “a near miss at JFK Airport in January, and a Southwest jet that recently came within 200 feet of slamming into an ambulance crossing the runway at Baltimore’s airport,” The Post reported.
“While the overall numbers do not reflect an increase in incidents and occurrences, the potential severity of these events is concerning,” the FAA said.