Bomber Pilot Helps Land 737 After Pilot Heart Attack

Air Force Captain Mark Gongol, a career bomber pilot, found himself in the right place at the right time when a routine flight on a 737 from Des Moines to Denver took an unexpected turn.

The drama, which is only recently coming to light, happened on United Airlines Flight 1637, last December 30th. Gongol, returning from vacation with his wife and daughter, knew that something unusual was up when the 737 put its engines into idle and made a turn 30 minutes after takeoff, Gizmodo reports. The pilot, who usually flies a B-1B Lancer bomber, said that his fears were confirmed when calls came over the plane’s public address system, first for a doctor on board. As flight attendants hurried toward the front of the 737 with first aid kits, a call came across the system asking for a pilot.

Approaching the cockpit, Gongol found the pilot in shock, the victim of a cardiac event. According to Gongol, he knew that the first officer, who had taken over the 737, would require assistance:

After they moved the pilot, I was asked by the first officer, ‘are you a pilot?’ which was quickly followed with ‘what do you fly?’ I knew she was in a serious situation and that question gave her five seconds to judge if I would be useful. I also had about five seconds to asses her, ‘was she panicking, or was she OK to fly the aircraft?’ We both finished our silent assessments, she made the right judgment and told me to close the door and have a seat.

According to CNN, Gongol then acted as a backup for the first officer, never taking the controls of the 737. He communicated with air traffic controllers, updating them on the situation as the 737 approached Omaha, the nearest airport. With the bomber pilot’s assistance, the first officer was able to pilot the plane to a safe landing. Despite the inherent differences, Gongol explained to CNN that to him, piloting a B-1B Bomber isn’t all that different from a 737. Likening it to the difference between “a pickup truck and a sedan,” Gongol said that “the same skills transfer.”

After landing, the 737 taxied as close to the gate as possible, and the affected pilot was rushed to a hospital for treatment that ultimately saved his life. Gongol, feeling he had done all he could to help, “slinked out the back door” with his family. His story only came to light recently, when the Air Force received requests for information from news reporters.

The incident isn’t the only close call involving a 737 recently. As The Inquisitr previously reported, a 737 in Alaska nearly collided in midair with a cargo plane just last month.

Without Gongol’s assistance, there is little doubt that the first officer would have had a more difficult time bringing the plane down safely. The bomber pilot’s presence on the 737 is certainly something the passengers and crew are all thankful for.

[Image via Gizmodo]