Pilot Dies After Suffering From Heart Attack; Flight Diverted

The aircraft which was diverted to Boiseis is similar to this Boeing 737-900 aircraft. Photograph by FlyerTalk member aw. Click on the photograph for a collection of reviews and photographs by aw and other FlyerTalk members.

The captain of a Boeing 737-900 aircraft which operated as United Airlines flight 1603 from Houston to Seattle suffered from a heart attack during the flight, causing the aircraft to be diverted to Boise where it safely landed — and FlyerTalk members who were amongst the 161 people aboard that aircraft post their first-hand experiences., which included one FlyerTalk member who supposedly performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the captain.

Two doctors and an off-duty pilot for United Airlines came to the aid of Henry Skillern, who was 63 years old and was still alive after the aircraft landed. Paramedics and firefighters then came to his aid as he was rushed to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, where Skillern reportedly passed away a short time later.
FlyerTalk member dmodemd first posted that the aircraft suddenly turned left during the flight and landed quickly. “My seatmate saw CPR being performed and it was about 30 minutes from then before he was taken off the plane after parking right off the runway next to emergency vehicles,” wrote dmodemd. “BOI personnel very helpful but still awaiting word on replacement crew getting to BOI to advance the aircraft to SEA.” At that time, the first officer of the flight reported that Skillern was still alive.
“Sure hope he makes it! I was on 1603 and one of the people performing the CPR,” posts FlyerTalk member BackOfTheBus. “Poor guy did not look very good but miracles happen every day! A big thanks to the 2 WA radiologists, 2 FAs and 2 army guys who took turns cracking those ribs and giving rescue breaths. Oh, and to the gentleman across from me in 2E who pulled the pilot out of his cockpit seat (not an easy task).”
FlyerTalk member chavala was also on that flight and posts the following account:

“I was sitting in 1A. I saw a lot of it but some of this was reported via a play by play from my seatmate in 1B who had a birds eye view.
“It all happened so quickly. After they announced a medical emergency a doctor (a petite woman), ran up to the front. After a couple minutes one of the FAs came screaming into the FC cabin, ‘I need a man! I need a man!’, and then literally grabbed the big guy who was sitting in 2E and dragged him up to the cockpit. He later told my seatmate and I that they needed help trying to get the captain out of his seat, and it was like dead weight — he was already completely unconscious. It took them all to pull him onto the floor.
“They grabbed everything from the galley that was in the way and dumped it at our feet in the bulkhead. A few minutes later a dentist who knew CPR came up and helped taking turns with the FA’s. They were really pumping him hard.
“Two military guys came up and a very young looking off-duty UA pilot. One of the FA’s piled all the glasses on 1B’s tray table and swept them into a garbage bag. She then asked if we could move to the back for landing to make room for the crowd at the front. I moved back to the aisle seat where UA pilot was sitting. The young ladies sitting next to him told me they had been flirting with him and he was “just learning how to drive a plane! Look!”. In his seatback was a 737 manual. (wow, what a training experience that must have been for him).
“The FA’s announced we are landing NOW and it felt like we just went straight down to the ground. Nobody had a clue as to where we were until we turned on our phones.
“We were immediately met by emergency vehicles and the captain was taken off. The people from the front all came back and 1B and I went back up to our seats. Most of the FAs where in tears and a lot of us passengers felt pretty shaken too. We all assumed he was dead.
“We taxied to the gate and after a while we were deplaned in Boise and hung around for a couple hours while they flew a new captain up from SFO. Nobody announced anything about the continuing flight to ANC, and a lot of people were left in the dark. Of course those of us in the know got on the UA app and saw they switched equipment to a 738 for the SEA-ANC flight, and it was leaving without us. I called the 1k line and got protected on the 6am AS flight.
“When we reboarded the plane they got a call and one of the FAs screamed “He’s alive????!!!!”. She seemed happy and surprised at the same time. The new captain came on and announced Captain Rocky is alive but he’s not out of the woods just yet, he’s going to have a long recovery. Everyone cheered and clapped.
“When we arrived SEA it was compete chaos at the service desk since most of the area hotels were sold out. I was put up at The Holiday Inn and Suites in Kent, a 25 minute drive away. I was there all of 2 hours before I had to turn around and come back to the airport.”

chavala continued on to report the following:

“The FAs never got off the plane while we were in the Boise terminal. They were very upset. I was one of the first off and they stood at the front as usual saying goodbye to everyone and they looked very dishelveled and one was practically biting her lip trying to hold back tears. My heart went out to them. I don’t know how they stood there while the entire plane deboarded.
“I imagine they had no choice but to continue. We were in Boise after all. On the 1+ hour flight to Seattle they were composed and nearly cheerful — but then again we had all been told the captain was alive.
“I wanted to add how impressed I was with this crew. The way they handled themselves was nothing short of amazing.
“Also, the dentist who assisted with The CPR — I just realize after reading this thread he was the guy sitting in the row behind me. We all asked if we could do anything to help, but he actually did something important. Kudos.”

My thoughts and condolences are with the family, friends and colleagues of Henry Skillern. May he rest in peace.

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