Did he have a Bone to pick with the airline afterwards?

I was interested to read how a US Air Force bomber pilot helped to land a United Airlines Boeing 737 last week.

Approximately 30 minutes into the flight, Gongol, a B-1B Lancer pilot, noticed the engines power down to idle. The thoughts immediately started jumping through his head; there were a variety of reasons why the engines would shut down to idle, none of them categorized as normal. Slowly, the aircraft began to descend and turn right.

“Over the public address system; a flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board the plane,” said Gongol. “A few more calls went out for medical professionals and the flight attendants were all hurrying to first class with their beverage carts and a first-aid kit.”

At that moment, Gongol thought it was a medical emergency with a first class passenger, his instincts told him to stay seated and stay out of the way. A fourth call went out, “are there any non-revenue pilots on board, please ring your call button.” Immediately, Gongol realized the pilot was the patient. He looked to his wife; as she gave him a nod, Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight deck.

Arriving at the flight deck, Gongol saw four flight attendants and two passenger nurses assembling a make-shift bed, medical kits were strewn across the ground and the captain of the aircraft was seated in his chair, eyes dilated, sweaty, clammy and disoriented. Gongol immediately thought the pilot was suffering some serious cardiac trauma.

“After they moved the pilot, I was asked by the first officer, ‘are you a pilot,’ which was quickly followed with ‘what do you fly,'” said Gongol. “I knew she was in a serious situation and that question gave her five seconds to judge if I would be useful. I also had about five seconds to asses her, ‘was she panicking, or was she OK to fly the aircraft?’ We both finished our silent assessments, she made the right judgment and told me to close the door and have a seat.”

There’s more at the link.

Looks like a well coordinated response and good judgment by all concerned.



  1. I am glad to see that the story at the link places the credit where the credit is due – namely to the first officer, who calmly and professionally brought the plane safely down in Omaha. Most of the media stories I have seen don't even mention the first officer, much less that she was the one who actually flew the approach and landing.

  2. Sorry – I saw a huge typo after I hit "Post".

    A common misconception among the non flying is the Captain is the one flying the plane. Pilots trade every other leg, though not seats, though a Captain may fly more than one in a row depending on conditions or the particular airport. It is his or her call as they are the one in command. Copilots in such operations also hold the same license specific to the type of plane, the training for which includes every type of approach and landing the carrier is authorized to do, from the copilots seat.

    I had the Skipper get acute food poisoning one time in a Sherpa and he was pretty much incapable of doing anything but puke. All went well but when I made the announcement to the folks in the back before I hit the final, they told me they could hear him upchucking in the background. He was OK after a trip to the hospital (bad shellfish) but didn't live that one down for a while.

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