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Plane lands safely as pilot dies in midflight

THE passengers on Continental Airlines Flight 61 didn't know anything was wrong with their trans-Atlantic crossing until they landed and were met by fire trucks, emergency vehicles and dozens of clamoring reporters.

Their pilot was dead.

"I was shocked," said Dora Dekeyser, of Houston. "Nobody knew anything."

The plane's 60-year-old captain had died of a suspected heart attack midway through Thursday's flight from Brussels, Belgium, and two co-pilots had taken over the controls.

The crew of the Boeing 777 made an announcement over the loudspeaker asking if there was a doctor on board, but Martha Love, of Greenwich, New Jersey, who was sitting in the first row of the plane, didn't suspect anything was amiss.

The flight attendants continued to serve snacks. Passengers read magazines and watched movies. And the flight stayed on schedule.

"No one knew," said Love, who only became concerned after the plane landed and she saw emergency vehicles lined up along the runway.

Dr Julien Struyven, 72, a cardiologist and radiologist from Brussels, examined the pilot in the cockpit and tried to revive him using a defibrillator. It was too late. Struyven said there was "no chance at all" of saving him.

Passenger Kathleen Ledger, 45, of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, said she learned about what happened when her cell phone rang after landing.

"My husband called me and told me," she said.

She was impressed with the way the flight crew handled themselves and did not think passengers needed to be informed of the death during the flight. "They did an incredible job," she said. "I would have done the exact same thing."

The dead pilot Craig Lenell was based in Newark, New Jersey, and had worked for Continental for 32 years, the airline said.

Tom Donaldson, a former leader of the Continental pilots' union who now flies Boeing 767 jets for the airline, said pilots must pass an extensive physical every six months to remain qualified to fly.

For long routes such as trans-Atlantic flights, a third pilot is aboard to permit the captain or first officer to take rest breaks.

Craig Lenell, 60, had no known heart condition and underwent twice-a-year physicals, his wife Lynda Lenell told a Houston television station. "Flying was his life. He died doing what made him happiest."


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