Pilot Suffers Heart Attack Mid-Air, Passenger Makes Emergency Landing

A passenger took the controls of a single-engine plane and landed it successfully in North Carolina after a pilot suffered a heart attack mid-air. Duke University Professor Joseph Izatt died on the flight after passing out in the cockpit. His sole companion then contacted the control tower at Raleigh-Durham International Airport and was able to land the aircraft with assistance from the tower. Evan Caulfield expressed his relief upon landing and said he was experiencing various emotions, from adrenaline to excitement to sorrow.

Mr. Izatt joined Duke University in 2001 and wrote hundreds of scientific papers as chair of its Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dean Jerome Lynch described the professor as an “exceptionally thoughtful leader” with a “deep love for the BME community.” The school lowered its flags in his memory.

Incidents involving mid-air medical emergencies are common, and experts say pilots are particularly vulnerable to heart-related illness due to high stress levels, irregular sleep patterns, and frequent exposure to high altitudes.

In the UK last year, a flying instructor died while accompanying a colleague across northern England. Shortly after take-off from a Blackpool airport, the instructor’s head fell backward, in what his colleague assumed was a joke. He took control of the plane, and even when the instructor’s head fell onto his shoulder, he did not believe anything was wrong. Only after landing the aircraft did the flyer realize that his instructor had died at the journey’s outset.

A year earlier, in Florida, a man with no flying experience was forced to land a single-engine Cessna 208 using only the instructions of air traffic controller Robert Morgan. The plane took off from the Bahamas for Palm Beach International, but the pilot soon fell unconscious. Speaking to Morgan via radio, passenger Darren Harrison, who had never flown before, managed to take the aircraft to Palm Beach and land safely.

Mr. Morgan later described the landing as “10 out of 10.”