A newly-hired American Airlines regional jet pilot reportedly collapsed and was pronounced dead shortly after takeoff Saturday night from Chicago O’Hare International Airport en route to Columbus, Ohio.
Captain Patrick Ford reportedly collapsed at the controls of his American Eagle Embraer 175 just seconds after the 76-seat jet had left the runway in Chicago.
“Ford was speaking to an air traffic controller at Chicago O’Hare, one of the world’s busiest airports, when his voice abruptly stopped, a publicly available recording of the incidents show,” Alex Berenson reports.
“Can I help you?” the controller asked.
“We need to return, captain is incapacitated,” Ford’s copilot stated.
Listen to the audio below:
Alex Berenson reported:
But the Embraer’s copilot, Captain Brandon Hendrickson, took control. Hendrickson brought the jet to 5,000 feet and within minutes had it back on the ground at O’Hare. Through Hendrickson was in the first officer’s seat, he was actually overseeing Ford as a “line check airman” because Ford was so new to Envoy Air, a regional carrier owned by American Airlines.
Ford’s body remained in the pilot’s seat throughout.
Envoy’s vice president for flight operations reported the death to its pilots Sunday, but beyond that American and Envoy have not publicly disclosed the near-disaster. A spokesperson for Envoy did not respond to specific questions about what had happened, acknowledging only that a “crew member” had become ill “shortly after departure” and “passed away at the hospital.”
In fact, the recording shows that Ford was either unconscious or dead throughout the short flight. “He’s knocked out,” Hendrickson told the control tower just a minute after taking over. “We’re going to need paramedics.”
Three days later, word of the close call is spreading among pilots at American and elsewhere, who are lauding Hendrickson’s heroism.
“Dude had to keep cool to get this plane on the ground safely and luckily kept a much larger disaster from occurring in the very busy airspace and land beneath Chicago Intl.,” one pilot wrote me.
“His handling of the situation was superb,” another wrote.
The vice president of flight operations at Envoy Air released a statement following the incident.
“Despite heroic efforts to revive him, Captain in training, Patrick Ford, passed away,” Ric Wilson, the Vice President of Flight Operations at Envoy Air, said in a message to fellow pilots.
“We are deeply saddened by this loss.”
“Sincere thanks to Line Check Airman, Captain Brandon Hendrickson, for his leadership and professionalism in the safe handling of his aircraft, passengers, and crew,” Wilson continued.
American and Envoy declined to disclose if Ford had received the experimental COVID-19 shot or booster.
They also haven’t disclosed a cause of death.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has opened an investigation regarding the incident.
FAA is now investigating after the captain of American Eagle (Envoy) Flight 3556 became incapacitated shortly after taking off from ORD Saturday night. The captain died later at a hospital. The copilot safely landed the plane at ORD. 57 passengers & crewpic.twitter.com/pcvFIuUCM9
— Kris Van Cleave (@krisvancleave) November 22, 2022
The number of pilots who have collapsed while flying, or who have died as a result, has increased in recent months.