Co-pilot lands plane at PDX after pilot loses consciousness

PORTLAND, Ore. - An Alaska Airlines jet was forced to make an emergency landing in Portland on Thursday night after the pilot apparently suffered food poisoning or had the flu and briefly lost consciousness.

Passengers on board Alaska flight 473 said the pilot regained consciousness before the plane landed, although by that point the first officer had taken over control of the plane.

The pilot "came out of the cockpit and collapsed on the aisle. He hit his head on something," said passenger Hylan Slobodkin. "Fortunately a young woman who was a 4th year medical student ran to his aid."

"The flight attendant was going up and down the aisle saying 'are there any paramedics, doctors, nurses - someone who can come help?'" said Rita Slobodkin.

Spokeswoman Bobbi Egan with Alaska Airlines said the pilot suffered from either food poisoning or the flu.

The co-pilot landed safely and the pilot was taken to the hospital, according to Steve Johnson with the Port of Portland.

Egan said his condition on Friday morning was "greatly improved."

Paul McElroy, another Alaska spokesman, said the jet left Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 6:30 p.m. for a flight to Seattle. The plane was a Boeing 737.

McElroy said the pilot lost consciousness "somewhere over Oregon," forcing the flight's first officer to make an emergency landing in Portland.

"They made no announcement until the end," Hylan Slobodkin said. "That's the scary part. But the plane didn't lunge and everything seemed fine so we were ok."

The pilot has been flying for Alaska for 28 years and the first officer for 11 years, McElroy said.

There were 116 passengers and five crew members onboard the plane. Some of the passengers were booked on a Horizon shuttle bound for Sea-Tac. It left at 9:30 p.m.

A flight crew is being flown in to PDX, and the remaining passengers were flown on the same plane.

"I'm really glad to be on planet Earth and have my feet on the ground," said Rita Slobodkin when she arrived in Seattle.

McElroy said the pilot has been flying for Seattle-based Alaska Air Group Inc. for 28 years and was current on his six-month medical evaluation. The co-pilot is an 11-year Alaska Air veteran.

On Jan. 22, the co-pilot on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Las Vegas fainted briefly, and the pilot requested emergency landing priority to get prompt medical assistance for him.

"At this point we do not believe there was a connection between the two incidents," McElroy said.

He said pilots are highly encouraged to report if they're not feeling well, but he in both of the recent cases, the "pilots felt fine when they reported for duty." Their dizziness and fainting came very suddenly, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.