Off-Duty Air Force Pilot Helps Land United Jet

Original pilot on passenger plane suffered a heart attack

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 3, 2014 6:46 PM CDT

(Newser) – Capt. Mark Gongol flies B-1B bombers for the Air Force in his day job, and he had to put those skills to use while returning from vacation with his family on a United jet. About a half-hour into the flight from Des Moines to Denver, Gongol figured something was wrong when he noticed the engines idle as the plane made an unscheduled turn, explains Gizmodo. Flight attendants rushed to the cockpit, one with a first-aid kit, as the call went out asking if there was a doctor, then a pilot, aboard. "I looked at my wife and she looked back at me and she said, 'I think you should ring the call button,'" Gongol tells CNN.

It turns out the United captain had suffered an apparent heart attack, and the first officer was at the controls. They made a quick decision to keep it that way, with Gongol handling the radio communication and backing up the first officer. "She was calm, but you could tell she was a little stressed, who wouldn't be," Gongol recounts to Air Force Space Command. "At the beginning, I interrupted her flow of operations, but we figured everything out extremely quickly. She was very impressive." They made it down safely in Omaha, and Gongol was able to tell the first officer where to taxi because he'd flown at the airport in his own training. Later, he got a thank-you call from the stricken pilot, who is recovering. As for his wife, "she said, 'Good job.'"

File photo of a United Airlines Boeing 737.   (AP Photo/George Nikitin)
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