Off-duty pilot steps in mid-flight after captain becomes incapacitated

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 aircraft is airborne as it departs Los Angeles International Airport.
Philip Pilosian /

An off-duty pilot who was a passenger on a flight stepped in to help fly the jet after the captain became incapacitated and needed medical attention.  

The Southwest Airlines flight 6013 took off from Las Vegas Harry Reid Airport (LAS) for Columbus John Glen Airport (GMH) on March 23, 2023, just before 6:45am (local time). 

According to reports during the flight the captain became ill and an off-duty pilot for a rival airline made himself known to assist.  

It is understood the passenger helped with radio communication while the other Southwest pilot flew the Boeing 737. 

The aircraft returned to Las Vegas so the sick pilot could get help around two hours into the flight. 

A recording of the pilot’s conversation with air traffic controllers was released by CNN

“Okay we are going to get airstairs out here. The captain became incapacitated while enroute,” the Southwest pilot said. “He’s in the back of the aircraft right now with a flight attendant, but we need to get him on an ambulance immediately.” 

There has been no update from Southwest Airlines regarding the captain’s current condition.  

“Southwest Flight 6013 from Las Vegas to Columbus, Ohio returned to LAS after departure on Wednesday when one of our Pilots needed medical attention,” a spokesperson for Southwest Airlines said.  

They added: “The flight landed safely, and an alternate Flight Crew is operating the flight to CMH. We commend the Crew for their professionalism and appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding regarding the situation.” 

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) confirmed it is investigating the incident.

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