Passengers learned upon boarding the plane that their earlier pilot had died.
“I know that I will see him again”, she said. Flight 550 then made a rapid descent, arriving in Syracuse at 7:13 a.m. ET, according to American’s website.
Aviation experts said there was never any danger to passengers because pilots and co-pilots are equally capable of flying the aircraft.
The Federal Aviation Administration said seven pilots for USA airlines and one charter pilot have died during flights since 1994.
The pilot, 57, died from an “illness”, and the exact cause of death is being investigated, airline spokeswoman Brianna Jackson told The News.
The plane’s co-pilot diverted the flight from Phoenix to Syracuse, instead of Boston, and the FAA is still investigating.
Passenger Louise Anderson, who was heading from Reno to Boston via Phoenix, told The Associated Press that she had dozed off on the flight.
Syracuse Fire Chief Timothy Hess said that emergency services responded to an unconscious person on the plane, which was carrying 147 passengers and five crew at the time.
“We’re certainly well qualified to handle situations like these”, she said.
U.S. regulations require that airline pilots pass a physical exam every 12 months and every six months if they are 40 or older.
“October 5, 2015Dear Fellow Team Members, Today we received the extremely sad news that Phoenix-based Captain Michael Johnston passed away while at work”.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, one passenger on board the flight took to Twitter to express her sadness at what had happened.
The moment the co-pilot radioed in the emergency can be heard in an audio recording.
When the flight lands, “there’s going to be first responders on site”, and the death would be investigated by the local coroner.
“This rainbow came out, and the skies opened up as if his spirit was leaving the plane and going to heaven”, Cacciola said.