Continental captain dies after "serious" in-flight medical problem

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A Continental Airlines Boeing 757 flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico was diverted and delayed for several hours on January 20 after the captain experienced a serious and eventually fatal medical problem mid-flight.

Although few details are being disclosed, the airline confirms that the unspecified, but “serious”, medical emergency resulted in the diversion of flight 1838 to McAllen International Airport in Texas about 13:30 while en route to Mexico from the carrier’s Houston hub.

“During the flight, the captain experienced a serious medical problem which required the aircraft to land immediately. The first officer consulted with Continental’s operations center and arrangements were made to divert the aircraft to McAllen and to be met by an ambulance, and this was conducted safely,” says the airline in a statement.

“Unfortunately, the captain did not survive, and Continental is in the process of contacting family members. The company is not releasing additional details about the pilot or the nature of his affliction, although he is believed to have died of natural causes.”

Continental confirms that the pilot, who was based at its New York Newark hub, had worked with the airline for 21 years.

The aircraft resumed service with a replacement crew and arrived at 19:17, adds a spokeswoman. The aircraft was on the ground for about 3.5h, she notes.

There were 210 passengers onboard.

No other details are being disclosed by the airline, and a preliminary US FAA report only notes “pilot incapacitation”. The McAllen Fire Department, which responded to the incident, was not available for comment.

McAllen airport officials are referring all enquiries to Continental.