American Airlines Pilot Dies During Flight

Illustration for article titled American Airlines Pilot Dies During Flight

The pilot of American Airlines Flight 550 from Phoenix, AZ to Boston, MA passed away during the flight on Monday. According to a medical examiner, Captain Michael Johnston, who was 57 years old, died of natural causes. The aircraft’s co-pilot declared an emergency and quickly diverted the Airbus A320 to a safe landing in Syracuse, NY.

According to reports, Johnston, of West Jordan, UT, had undergone double bypass surgery in 2006. His wife stated that he likely died of a sudden heart attack. According to one of Johnston’s children, a flight attendant attempted to resuscitate the captain after he fell ill.


The 147 passengers on board Flight 550 were notified that the plane would be making an emergency landing in Syracuse because the pilot was ill. Emergency vehicles met the aircraft on the ground, although passengers weren’t told of Johnston’s passing until later.

American Airlines dispatched a relief crew to Syracuse, who completed the flight to Boston. It was not until this second, unplanned leg of the journey that passengers received confirmation that Johnston had passed away. Passengers were quick to offer praise to the American Airlines crew, reflecting that they remained calm and professional throughout the ordeal.

In a statement to the media, American Airlines noted the passing of the pilot and the resolve of the crew, saying, “They took extraordinary care of Mike, each other and our customers. We couldn’t be more proud of the teamwork this crew showed during an extremely difficult time.”

“We are incredibly saddened by this event, and we are focused on caring for our pilot’s family and colleagues.”


The pilot is remembered by his wife, eight children, and five grandchildren.

Photo credit: Top shot via Alan Wilson/Wikicommons

Follow the author on Twitter: @collinkrum



Eight children! So unusual these days! My grandmother had six siblings (in Germany, pre WWII) where it was considered normal. These days you only hear that in relation to Mormons and the Amish in the US (where I live now). Tragic all around, condolences to his family.