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Heavyweight pilot, 63, fatal heart attack while airborne

October 3, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A United Airlines flight with 161 passengers and six crew aboard suffered a mid-air emergency when its pilot collapsed at the controls with a devastating heart attack. An off-duty pilot who happened to be aboard the aircraft took over.

United Airlines flight 1603 was heading from Seattle to Houston last Thursday night when its pilot, Captain Henry Rockwell Skillern, of Humble, Texas, collapsed. HH250x250-2

Skillern, 63, was said to weigh over 300 pounds (or 136 kilograms) by a doctor who tried to resuscitate him in flight, the Daily Mail reported. While Skillern’s height was not stated, most body mass indexes pronounce someone who weighs 136kg to be overweight even if they are 215cm (7 feet) tall. Any shorter than that, and they may well be listed as obese.

The Boeing 737-900 diverted to Boise airport in Idaho and landed safely. Although Skillern was alive on landing, he died shortly afterwards.

Commercial airline flights must have a co-pilot aboard who is capable of landing the plane in an emergency. An unusual aspect of this incident is that an off-duty United Airlines pilot aboard is said to have taken over control of the plane, as other members of the flight crew were busy helping perform CPR.

A passenger on the flight told Seattle TV station KOMO that a doctor sitting next to him, a US Army radiologist, volunteered to help perform CPR and mentioned afterwards that the pilot appeared to weigh over 300 pounds. Skillern was moved from the cockpit to the first class section of the aircraft where the CPR was performed.

The coroner indicated that Skillern died from an acute myocardial infarction (the medical term for the event commonly known as a heart attack) and listed the cause of death as natural, station KBOI2 reported.

In 2007, the mandatory pilot retirement age in the US was raised from 60 to 65. Pilots have to undergo regular medical screening to keep their Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification current and it is rare for a serious medical problem to occur while airborne.

Written by : Peter Needham

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