Flying is wildly complicated — and highly mechanized — but at the end of the day, it’s still guided by the human element. Our TSA agents, flight attendants, and pilots are all humans. That means that things will always be unpredictable… as much as that scares us.
For instance, yesterday a Boeing 737-800 flight traveling from Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico was two miles from landing when the captain declared an emergency due to a “medical issue.” During the last phases of landing, Flight 1353’s first officer (aka co-pilot) became incapacitated. The incapacitated first officer was identified by American Airlines as William “Mike” Grubbs and while the cause of his death is yet to be reported, two people familiar with the incident told CNN that Grubbs was pronounced dead after 35-40 minutes of CPR.
In the case of Flight 1353, the captain radioed for help saying, “We’ve got an issue with one of the pilots.” They crew proceeded to land safely and paramedics were waiting at the gate, according to Albuquerque International Sunport spokesman Dan Jiron. No one else was injured.
While events such as these are rare (the last time a pilot died while flying in the U.S. was October 2015) there is a proper protocol for airline employees follow. CNN also reported that for the most part, the tasks required of a pilot during final approach in a Boeing 737 can be handled by a single crew member.