American Airlines reveals identity of pilot who died on flight

Pilot fell ill and died as the copilot landed the plane safely in Syracuse, New York

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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in a letter to employees on Monday night that Captain Michael Johnston was piloting Flight 550 from Phoenix to Boston early Monday morning when he fell ill.

Johnston fell ill and died on the American Airlines flight and the copilot landed the plane safely in Syracuse, New York, airline and police officials said.

The Airbus A320, which had left Phoenix with 148 passengers and five crew members, touched down at Syracuse Hancock International Airport shortly after 7 a.m. EDT, said spokeswoman Brianna Jackson.

"Medical emergency. Captain is incapacitated," the copilot told air traffic controllers in a calm voice, according to a recording posted on LiveATC.net.

Asking for directions to an airport gate that could be quickly accessed by emergency medical personnel, he said, "We'll need them to get to the captain."

The 57-year-old pilot from Utah was pronounced dead on board the plane a few minutes after it landed, Syracuse Police Lieutenant Eric Carr said.

Jackson said Flight 550 left Phoenix Sky Harbor International shortly before midnight on Sunday, but was diverted "due to pilot illness."

"Unfortunately, our pilot passed away," Jackson said.

Both Carr and Jackson declined to comment further, including on whether the pilot died in the air or on the ground, the nature of the illness and any further identification of the pilot or copilot. The Onondaga County, New York, medical examiner's office referred all questions to the police.

"We are incredibly saddened by this event," Jackson said.

The flight later continued with a replacement crew and landed in Boston in the early afternoon, according to FlightAware.com.