American Airlines Pilot who Died Mid-Flight Identified as Veteran Michael Johnston

By Cheri Cheng - 06 Oct '15 09:35AM

The American Airlines pilot who died mid-flight has been identified as Capt. Michael Johnston. The 57-year-old veteran pilot, who was flying the plane from Phoenix, AZ to Boston, MA, suffered a heart attack, his wife, Betty Jean Johnston confirmed to NBC News.

According to the medical examiner's office in Onondaga County, NY, via CNN, an autopsy and preliminary toxicology tests revealed "the death was the result of natural diseases."

"He loves flying," Betty Jean said. "He is very loving and caring, and he'll do anything for anybody - bend over backwards, try and help out anyone as much as he can. He's always been that way."

Johnston, who underwent a double-bypass heart surgery in 2006, was considered to be in good health.

Johnston was flying Flight 550 when he fell ill somewhere along the route. The co-pilot was able to divert the plane and land it safely in Syracuse, NY. There were 147 passengers and five crew members on the flight, which took off at a little after midnight.

"If it wasn't for the copilot using a cool head it might have been more disastrous," a passenger on the flight, Peter McSwiggin said to WCVB.

McSwiggin added that passengers instantly knew that something was wrong when a woman informed them with a "quivering" voice through the intercom that the pilot was ill. However, the crew reportedly handled the situation very well.

"It was a smooth landing," passenger Louise Anderson said to the New York Daily News. "The staff seemed a little frazzled, but they handled it professionally. Some people were annoyed because it had been such a long flight and now we were delayed more. But no one was worried."

The passengers did not find out that their pilot had passed away until they were on aboard another plane with a replacement crew.

"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," airline CEO Doug Parker said in a statement. "[The crew] 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."

The passengers on the flight expressed their condolences as well.

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