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Flight diverted for pilot illness

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 7:03 p.m.

BOISE, Idaho — Flights get diverted to Boise all the time, says Boise airport spokeswoman Patti Miller. The small southwestern Idaho airport has had three flights diverted for medical emergencies in just the past two days.

But when United Airlines Flight 1603 from Houston to Seattle told the tower Thursday night that it needed to make an emergency landing, the medical emergency was happening to the pilot, who later died.

The first officer radioed the tower to report the medical emergency at 7:55 p.m. Thursday, Miller said. By 8:10 p.m., the plane was on the ground and Boise firefighters were wheeling a stairway over to the aircraft so they could disembark pilot Henry Skillern and take him to a hospital.

Skillern, a 63-year-old from Humble, Texas, died while he was being treated for a sudden heart attack in Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. He had been a pilot for United Airlines for 26 years, United spokeswoman Christen David said.

There were 161 passengers aboard the Boeing 737-900, and the passengers appeared to handle the emergency well, Miller said.

“It seemed like they felt that everything that could be done, was being done. The passengers were concerned for him, but everyone was very calm,” she said.

Passenger Ken Martin told Seattle TV station KOMO a first-year resident doctor sitting next to him volunteered to help perform CPR.

She told Martin the pilot appeared to weigh more than 300 pounds and was taken into the first class cabin for CPR.

Another pilot flew the original plane and passengers to Sea-Tac Airport, David said.

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