It is a rare and very unfortunate event when a crew member dies mid-flight. On a recent American Airlines flight into Albuquerque, the First Officer sadly passed just minutes before touching down.
Flight 1353 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Albuquerque was on final approach when the Captain called to the tower that there was a medical emergency onboard.
The Captain safely landed the Boeing 737-800 and made it to the gate where the plane was met by emergency personnel. It was stated that CPR was performed on the First Officer for 35-40 minutes with no success.
Can large aircraft land safely with just one pilot?
While it does take a great amount of attention and focus, a single pilot can land a large aircraft with no issues. Typically, the First Officer will handle the pre-landing checklist as well as communications with the ground.
Since the Captain is 100% responsible for the safety of the passengers, he or she will often give commands to the First Officer. At times the First Officer will control the plane during rough weather while the Captain keeps an eye on the instruments.
First Officers are completely trained to operate the aircraft just like the Captain. The Captain has the final say, however, when it comes to the navigation and control of the aircraft. Both the Captain and First Officer will “take turns” of the controls throughout the flight, a verbal command is always given when the switch is made. One is monitoring while one is operating.
This is not the first time, though it is very rare
To have a pilot die mid-flight is extremely rare. The FAA strictly controls the medical examinations of pilots to ensure they are in top health, great vision, etc.
In 2015, an American Airlines Captain, age 57, passed-away while in route from Phoenix to Boston. Ultimately the plane diverted to Syracuse, NY and made a safe landing.
In this case, the First Officer took control of the aircraft and touched-down safely.