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Pilot from another airline helps land Southwest flight after captain falls ill

By Jay Blackman, Grace Jaworski, Chantal Da Silva and Erik Ortiz

A pilot from another airline helped land a Southwest Airlines flight that left early Wednesday from Las Vegas after its captain became "incapacitated" and required medical attention, according to the airline and radio traffic data, in an episode that surprised some passengers who had no clue a pilot had fallen ill.

Southwest Flight 6013 had taken off just after 6:30 a.m. bound for Columbus, Ohio, according to the flight-tracking site FlightAware. While it was airborne, one of its pilots "needed medical attention," a spokesperson for the airline said, without giving details about the health issue. In radio traffic archived by the website LiveATC, a person says the captain had started to feel stomach pain and then "fainted or became incapacitated" around five minutes later. The person says the captain "came back" around 60 seconds later and was being looked after in the back of the plane. "We need to get him on an ambulance immediately," the person says.

Las Vegas resident Diane McGlinchey, who was on the flight with her husband, said Thursday that she didn't notice any panic when crew members initially went on the plane's public announcement system to ask whether medical personnel were on board.

A passenger sitting up front who said she was a nurse put on her call light to help, McGlinchey said. She said she and her husband had been at the back of the plane and didn't notice it was the pilot who needed aid, but she said they knew the ill person was with the nurse in her row. The crew "calmly just would give us an update saying we're going to go back to Las Vegas, we have a medical emergency on board," McGlinchey said.

Meanwhile, a credentialed pilot from another airline who was on board as a passenger entered the flight deck and assisted with radio communication as the second Southwest pilot flew the aircraft, the airline.

"We greatly appreciate their support and assistance," the spokesperson said of the pilot who stepped in.

According to FlightAware, the plane returned to Las Vegas' Harry Reid International Airport at about 7:50 a.m. A Southwest spokesperson said the plane landed safely and an alternate crew took over, operating the flight to Columbus.

"We commend the crew for their professionalism and appreciate our customers' patience and understanding regarding the situation," the spokesperson said.

McGlinchey said she and her husband didn't realize it was the pilot who had had the medical emergency until after the plane landed. EMS and fire officials were already waiting, she said.

This article originally appeared on NBC News

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