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article imageFlight attendant helps land plane at O'Hare airport

By Kim I. Hartman     Jun 17, 2010 in Travel
Chicago - An American Airlines flight had an unusual experience when the first officer became ill and was replaced by a flight attendant who hadn't flown a plane for 20 years. She said they worked as a team as trained and safely landed at the Chicago airport.
A flight attendant with a pilot's license had to take over for a sick copilot assisting the pilot in landing an American Airlines Boeing 767 in Chicago.
The plane was flying from San Francisco to Chicago's O'Hare International Airport when the copilot became ill with a stomach bug about an hour into the flight and could not stay in his seat for very long.
After two hours the captain began to solicit help and enlisted the purser's help in checking the passenger list for any dead heading pilot's catching a flight back who might be aboard the plane said the flight attendant.
Flight attendant Patti DeLuna, 61, said she was a commercial pilot and had started flying after high school and she volunteered to take over for the ailing first officer, although she said she didn't do anything to actually land the plane she took over the co-pilots seat in a position of assistance in case the pilot had any type of emergency that would necessitate her help.
"I was the best available they had on the plane," DeLuna said. One other flight attendant also had a pilots license but had much less experience. "I spent a lot of time in the cockpit looking at the flight deck and asking questions. My first question to the captain was, 'Where are the brakes?'"
She said she had flown with that captain the day before and he told her that they would give her direction if need be. "She said no one person was a star on the flight, not even the captain who was piloting the aircraft alone."
DeLuna, who has worked as a flight attendant for 32 years, received a commercial pilot's certificate in 1970, and has about 300 flight hours piloting a small Cessna, though she had not flown for 20 years. The flight's purser also had pilot experience, but the captain chose DeLuna.
"I felt terrible for the first officer," DeLuna said. "But I was so excited. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. She added the crew is a team and in this unfortunate circumstance everything came together perfectly."
The plane, carrying 225 passengers and seven crew members, landed safely at O'Hare. The co-pilot who was still sick was taken to the hospital where he was treated and then released.
An American Airlines spokesman said the plane can be flown by one pilot and is actually so sophisticated it can even land itself. The spokesman added "no passengers were in danger during the flight or landing."
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