Flight attendant helps land plane

June 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
There was an onboard emergency on an American Airlines flight from SFO to Chicago on Monday. The co-pilot became ill and someone unexpected stepped up to help land the plane.

A flight attendant told ABC7 she set aside her work in the galley and helped out in the cockpit.

Flight 1612 left SFO Monday morning, but by 1:15 p.m., an hour before the plane was supposed to land in Chicago, there was a major problem. The plane's co-pilot got so sick, he had to leave the cockpit. The captain then checked if any off-duty pilots were on board.

"Being on an airplane is a team effort," said American Airlines flight attendant Patti DeLuna.

DeLuna suddenly volunteered when no one else did. The flight attendant happens to also have her commercial pilot's license.

"Being a commercial pilot, she's a much greater help than just a private pilot because she would know more about the approach plates," said retired airline pilot Capt. Dick Deeds.

"I loved telling my mom, 'Hey mom, guess what? I was in the cockpit landing!' That was fun," said DeLuna.

DeLuna set the plane's instruments, checked speeds, and lowered the landing gear and flaps. The Boeing 767 had an auto-pilot function on board, so the plane's captain could have landed it by himself, but American Airlines pilots ABC7 spoke with agree it's just not as safe.

"We all fly, these larger planes they are all two-man cockpits and we back each other up as we go. One man does action and the other reads the checklist and makes sure it gets done. So if she was able to read the checklist and help him out then, that's great because he's by himself," said American Airlines co-pilot Steven Lee.

"Something like this happening is totally out of the ordinary and I have to commend her for being calm and just stepping forward and handling the situation as best she could," said flight attendants' union representative Larry Salas.

DeLuna says she doesn't consider herself a hero, but her 225 passengers on board might think otherwise.


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