Yesterday, the pilot of a Continental Airlines flight from Brussels to Newark died mid-flight, and a cardiologist who tried to revive Captain Craig Lennell believes he died from a heart attack. (An autopsy will determine cause of death.) Dr. Julien Struyven, who was a passenger on the flight, said, "It's a wonderful death. You die on duty. You don't feel anything." Two co-pilots took over the flight and safely landed the plane, which carried 247 passengers.
Lennell's wife told a Houston TV station her 60-year-old husband had no know heart conditions, adding, "He was the kindest, gentlest man I've ever known. He would do anything for anyone. He called me yesterday from Brussels to tell me he was bringing home some chocolate." Lennell's colleagues thought he was sleeping at first, but when they couldn't wake him, they asked passengers if there were any doctors aboard. FAA records also show that Lennell passed an extensive physical in March. The former head of the Continental pilots' union who still flies for the airline, Tom Donaldson, told the Star-Ledger that while there's isn't specific training for the possibility of a crew member's incapacitation, the other pilots (and there were two others for the trans-Atlantic flight) are capable of flying the aircraft, "Clearly you want another set of eyes watching when you're going down a checklist, but you're capable of flying the airplane yourself. You can put the gears down, put the flaps down and carry out your other duties by yourself in an emergency."
Passengers were not told of the captain's passing and were amazed when they found out. One who inquired about the request for doctors said, "We asked the stewardesses and they said, ‘Someone fell ill.'" Gyes Reuter, 21, of the Netherlands, told the Daily News, "It's hard to believe we were flying in the air with the dead body of the pilot, and everything moved forward so flawlessly."