A Continental passenger plane en route from Brussels to New York landed safely at Newark airport on Thursday after the pilot died during the flight, officials said. The Boeing 777 flight, carrying 247 passengers, was guided down by two co-pilots around midday (1600 GMT) at the New Jersey airport, its final destination which is one of three main airports serving New York City. "The captain of Continental Flight 61, which was en route from Brussels to New York, died on flight apparently of natural causes," the airline said in a statement. "The fight continued safely with two pilots at the controls."
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) spokesman Jim Peters told NY1 television that other planes were taken out of the landing queue so the Continental aircraft would have a clear descent into Newark. One of the passengers said they knew nothing about the emergency until after they had landed, arriving in Newark at the time the flight had been due. "We were not aware of that. They called a doctor saying that there was a medical emergency," one passenger, who was not named, told NY1 television shortly after the landing.
Asked if passengers had been alerted to the emergency, Mr Peters said: "The attention of the flight crew was on maintaining control of the aircraft." The pilot was 61 years old, based in Newark and had worked for the airline for 21 years, Continental said in a statement. Another pilot, who was on board but not on duty, had helped the flight's co-pilot land the plane at the city's second largest airport after John F Kennedy. New York is also served by La Guardia airport.
Although it is rare, airlines have lost pilots in flight before. In January 2007, a Continental flight from Texas to a Mexican holiday resort made an emergency landing after the pilot fell ill. The co-pilot safely landed the plane carrying 210 passengers and the pilot died on the ground. In May 2000, Taiwanese airline China Airlines was forced to turn back shortly after take off when the pilot suffered a heart attack. The co-pilot returned the plane to the airport and the pilot died soon after arriving at a hospital.
In March 1997, a Gulf Air Airbus A-320 skidded at Abu Dhabi airport after a pilot had a heart attack right at take-off. *AFP