According to airline spokeswoman, Andrea Huguely, Flight 550 left Phoenix at 11:55 p.m. local time and was diverted mid-flight, landing shortly after 7 a.m. EDT. She said that after the flight's captain, Michael Johnston, 57, who was based in Phoenix, became gravely ill, the first officer safely landed the plane with 147 passengers and five crew members on board.
"We are incredibly saddened by this event, and we are focused on caring for our pilot's family and colleagues," the airline statement said.Huguely said a replacement crew was sent to Syracuse and the plane later completed its trip to Boston.
Before the flight landed at Syracuse, the first officer called the airport tower and said in a calm voice, "American 550. Medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated." He requested a runway to land on.
In a recording of his exchange with the tower, he expresses concern whether ambulance medics can get on the plane quickly. He's assured they can and is told to go into a gate where the medics would meet the plane.
"The passengers were not in danger, absolutely not," he added.Passenger Louise Anderson, who was heading from Reno, Nevada, to Boston via Phoenix, said she had dozed off on the flight. "What I woke up to was the flight attendant telling us we were making an emergency landing because the pilot was ill," she said.
She said rumors of the pilot's death circulated in the Syracuse airport but were confirmed only by an announcement on their makeup flight to Boston. Anderson said the mood on board then was somber, but she commended the crew's handling of a tragic situation.