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Bomber Pilot Helps Land United Flight After Pilot Has a Heart Attack

Travelers Today       By    Katie McFadden

Updated: Jun 06, 2014 10:59 AM EDT

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A horrifying situation can happen when an airline pilot suddenly has a heart attack while flying. However luckily, a bomber pilot was on board a December United Airlines flight to help bring the plane to safety.

Air Force Capt. Mark Gongol and his wife and daughter were traveling from Des Moines to Denver on a United Boeing 737 in December when they heard an an announcement over the speaker that said "Is anyone on board a pilot?"

"I looked at my wife and she looked back at me and she said, 'I think you should ring the call button,'" Gongol told CNN.

Luckily Gongol is a pilot who flies B1B Lancer bombers. He immediately knew something was wrong when the announcement was made and flight attendants were rushing to the front of the plane carrying first-aid kits.

Gongol followed to the cockpit and saw that the captain was in trouble as passengers and crew helped him get out of the cockpit and set him up on a cot. Gongol said the captain looked pale and clammy. He apparently suffered a heart attack. Gongol then stepped into the cockpit and met the first officer.

"There was a moment. We both had about five seconds to size each other up. She was wondering about my level of experience. Was I a Cessna driver -- or a professional pilot?" Gongol said.
"I wanted to make sure she was OK. I had a feeling she was -- she was better than OK. She had already made the decision to turn the plane toward the nearest airport."

Gongol sat in the cockpit and helped the first officer land the plane at the airport in Omaha. Gongol never actually took the controls but he served as a backup for the first officer and spoke to air traffic controllers through the radio. He gave controllers updates on the captain, the passengers and the plane.

Gongol said he never expected to have to fly the plane but he said he would be capable if that was the situation as a B1B bomber is similar to a 737.

"A plane is a plane," he told CNN. "It's like the difference between driving a pickup truck, or a sedan. The same skills transfer."

The pilots were able to land the plane safely and it taxied to a nearby gate while ground crews set up a stairway by one of the plane's exits. The captain was taken off the plane and was rushed to a hospital by ambulance.

Gongol later learned that the captain survived and recovered from the incident.
"The captain called me up a month or two later," Gongol remembered. "He said it was a really rotten event, but fortunately a lot of things fell into place."

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