Nightly News | September 27, 2013
>>> now to some of the very, very tense and dramatic moments in the sky over idaho last night when the captain of a 737 with 161 passengers on board suffered a fatal heart attack midflight. as flight attendants and passengers tried to save the captain, the co-pilot took over the flying, declared an emergency in flight and landed at the nearest airport available in boise. nbc's tom costello has our report.
>> reporter: it was just after 7:30 last night when the first officer radioed boise airport .
>> air united, emergency.
>> reporter: united was flying from houston to seattle when the 63-year-old captain apparently suffered a heart attack at the controls.
>> we got man down, chest compressions going on right now. i'm not sure too much right now status, but an ambulance and maybe some air stairs meet us off the runway.
>> we'll get that going.
>> reporter: they jumped into the cockpit.
>> they kept the cpr going the whole time we were in the air.
>> reporter: despite the efforts the captain died at a boise hospital. inflight medical emergencies are actually very common. nearly 50 each day in the u.s., but most involve passengers and aren't so serious. according to a recent study, 37% are related to fainting, followed by respiratory and air sickness . just over 7% of all emergencies cause the plane to divert. 27 times a day flight crews call the university of pittsburgh , one of two med centers that assess a patient's condition from the ground.
>> patients in whom we have a high suspicion that they're having either a heart attack or a stroke would be diverted to the closest airport and then subsequently to the closest hospital.
>> reporter: pilots undergo physical checkups once a year under 40, twice over 40. they check their eyesight, equilibrium, mental state and cardiac health.
>> one of the reasons there are two pilots in the airplane is in case one is incapacitated.
>> reporter: back on flight 1603 .
>> a good thing we had a good co-pilot.
>> reporter: the passengers landed safely in seattle just after midnight. tom costello, nbc news, washington.