Scary Pilot Problems – Something Unusual in the Air?

The co-pilot of an Alaska Airlines flight heading to Seattle last night (Jan. 31) had to make an emergency landing in Portland, Ore., after the captain of the plane lost consciousness. A doctor onboard treated the man who was then transferred to a local hospital. The landing was smooth and no one was hurt – just delayed.

UPDATE: The airline says the pilot was suffering either from “food poisoning or a stomach virus.”

Listen as travel expert Rick Seaney explains why you don’t have to worry:

10 Things You Don’t Want to Hear a Pilot Say

Pilot Loses Consciousness

So far, little more is known about the incident except that the pilot, who’s been flying for 28 years, suffered from some unspecified medical condition. But while one media report cited an aviation expert who said, “It’s very rare that we have a pilot pass out,” it has happened before and just recently: On Jan. 22, another Alaska flight had to be diverted after a co-pilot fainted. It is not known if the two incidents are related.

Pilot Fatigue – Do They Get Enough Sleep?

Dutch Pilot Falls Asleep

More troubling is an incident that is just now coming to light which occurred on the Dutch airline Transavia last fall. The pilot of the flight left the cockpit to go to the restroom but when he returned and asked his first officer to let him back in, he was met with silence. The co-pilot had apparently fallen asleep. Somehow the pilot managed to get in on his own (which in itself raises questions about the door’s effectiveness against intruders) and returned to the controls. CNN quotes a Dutch aviation safety official whostated flatly, “The flight was in danger.” It should be noted that on U.S. flights, when a pilot leaves for a bathroom break, two people must stay behind in the cockpit, possibly to avoid just such a scenario.

Pilot Goes on Screaming Rant

More Scary Incidents

This was not the first time a pilot has been known to fall asleep at the controls – in fact, back in 2008, both pilots on a Go! Airlines flight fell asleep and overshot their Hawaiian destination before an air traffic controller finally managed to wake them up. In fairness, we have not heard of similar incidents since the FAA put new pilot fatigue rules into place.

It’s not clear what rules if any could have prevented a scarier incident that occurred just last year when a JetBlue pilot went on a screaming rant in the cabin. Fortunately, the co-pilot managed to divert the plane and land safely – but only after locking the captain out of the cockpit.

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Published: February 1, 2013