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Stricken United plane captain dies in Boise

BOISE, Idaho — Flights get diverted to Boise all the time, says Boise airport spokeswoman Patti Miller. The small southwestern Idaho airport has had three flights diverted for medical emergencies in just the past two days.

So it wasn’t anything terribly out-of-the ordinary when United Airlines Flight 1603 from Houston to Seattle told the tower Thursday night that they needed to make an emergency landing — except that this time, the medical emergency was happening to the pilot.

The first officer radioed the tower to report the medical emergency at 7:55 p.m. Thursday, Miller said. By 8:10 p.m., the plane was on the ground and Boise firefighters were wheeling a stairway over to the aircraft so they could disembark pilot Henry Skillern and take him to a hospital.

Skillern, a 63-year-old from Humble, Texas, died while he was being treated for a sudden heart attack at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. He had been a pilot for United Airlines for 26 years, United spokeswoman Christen David said.

There were 161 passengers aboard the Boeing 737-900, and the passengers appeared to handle the emergency well, Miller said.

“It seemed like they felt that everything that could be done, was being done. The passengers were concerned for him, but everyone was very calm,” she said.

Passenger Ken Martin told Seattle TV station KOMO a first-year resident doctor sitting next to him volunteered to help perform CPR. She told Martin the pilot appeared to weigh over 300 pounds and was taken into the first class cabin where CPR was performed.

Passenger Bryant Magill described a calm scene onboard.

“I’m really impressed with all the flight attendants,” Magill told KOMO. “They kept themselves calm. They kept it professional. There was no panic on the plane.”

Two doctors who helped the pilot were from Madigan Army Medical Center, said Jay Ebbeson, public affairs officer for the hospital at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Both are captains and radiology residents who were returning to the base near Tacoma from a medical course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

The Boeing 737-900 had 161 passengers and a crew of six on board. David, the United spokeswoman, said another pilot flew the original plane and passengers to Sea-Tac Airport.

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