PORTLAND -- Alaska Airlines flight 473 from Los Angeles bound for Seattle was diverted to Portland late Thursday night after its pilot lost consciousness due to flu symptoms.
Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan told KGW Friday that this was the second incident in 10 days where a pilot lost consciousness due to the flu. On Jan. 22, a pilot passed out on Flight 606 from Seattle to Las Vegas, she said.
Airline spokesman Paul McElroy said the co-pilot of Thursday's flight landed the plane safely after declaring an emergency to get priority care for the pilot.
The spokesman said the pilot lost consciousness somewhere over Oregon. The pilot later regained consciousness and left the cockpit.
The airline will not identify him, he said. He remains in the Portland area and his condition has improved considerably, McElroy said.
“The flight attendant was going up and down the aisles asking for help," passenger Rita Slobodkin told KGW. "We didn’t know if it was the pilot or co-pilot, didn’t know who was flying the plane or if it was going to land.”
“He came out of the cockpit and collapsed, hit his head on something," said Hylan Slobodkin. "Fortunately a fourth-year medical student ran to his aid.”
The Boeing 737-700 with 116 passengers and five crew members left Los Angeles about 6:30 p.m. PST and touched down in Portland at about 9 p.m. Passengers didn’t arrive in Seattle until after 1 a.m.
McElroy said the pilot has been flying for Alaska for 28 years and had no medical issues. The co-pilot has 11 years experience.
Jim Hummel, a retired American Airlines pilot, said these situations show why commercial flights have a co-pilot.
The first officer has a busy time flying for two, he said, manning radios, staying airborne properly and preparing for a landing at the closest airport that can handle the plane. And, he added, keeping emotions in check.
"Just the fact that you are concerned for the safety of the guy who fell ill, you just want to get there as quickly and as safely as possible," Hummel said. "So you want to make sure you've done everything that you are supposed to do."