West Jordan American Airlines Pilot Who Died Mid Flight Is Mourned

Michael Johnston American Airlines Pilot
Photo Courtesy: Facebook

WEST JORDAN, UTAH – October 6 (UPI/Gephardt Daily) — Funeral services have been announced for a West Jordan American Airlines pilot who died mid flight from Phoenix to Boston Monday.

The flight was diverted after Michael Johnston became ill and died, airline officials said. Michael Johnston, 57, was originally from Sacramento, California, but attended BYU and subsequently lived in West Jordan.

Michael Johnston’s wife, Betty Jean, posted on his Facebook page yesterday: “Betty Jean would like to let everyone know that Mike passed away this morning (10/5/2015) doing what he loved most, flying a plane to New York. The co-pilot was able to land the plane safely.”

Betty Jean Johnston posted funeral details on her own page: “I want to thank everyone for all the outpouring of condolences, love and prayers. The viewing will be Friday 5-7, funeral will be Saturday 11:30. Both will be at 5349 W. 9000 S. West Jordan.”

American Airlines Flight 550 left Phoenix shortly before midnight Sunday and was scheduled to land at Boston’s Logan Airport at around 8 a.m. A company spokeswoman told WBZ-TV that Johnston got sick during the flight, forcing the plane to divert to Hancock Airport in Syracuse, N.Y., around 7 a.m.

Five crew members, including the pilot, and 147 passengers were on board the flight. A replacement crew then manned the plane and departed for Boston around 11 a.m., landing at Logan Airport around 12:30 p.m.

Recordings of the crew’s conversations with air traffic controllers revealed that a crew member onboard said “captain is incapacitated” and “pilot is unresponsive, not breathing” at different points in time.

Passengers were also in the dark as to whether the pilot had died mid-flight. They told WBZ-TV that emergency workers’ slow pace of work upon landing suggested he had already died.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker wrote a letter to employees that was later released to the media.

Here is Parker’s letter in its entirety:

“Dear Fellow Team Members, 

Today we received the extremely sad news that Phoenix-based Captain Michael Johnston passed away while at work. Capt. Johnston was piloting Flight #550 from Phoenix to Boston early Monday morning when he fell ill. Capt. Johnston was 57 years old.

A graduate of Brigham Young University, Capt. Johnston began his career with America West Airlines in January 1990 as a first officer on the Dash-8. He later flew the 737 and the 757, before being upgraded to captain on the A320. 

I want to take a moment to thank Mike’s crewmembers on Flight #550. They took extraordinary care of Mike, each other and our customers. We couldn’t be more proud of the teamwork this crew showed during an extremely difficult time. Our airport teams in Syracuse and Boston were also instrumental in assisting our customers, and their handling is also greatly appreciated.  

All of us at American extend our condolences to Mike’s wife, Betty Jean, and to his entire family. They have lost a husband and father, and many of you have lost a personal friend. Taking care of Mike’s family is our focus now, and I know you’ll join me in keeping them in your thoughts and prayers.” 


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