A passenger jet pilot who died after collapsing just after takeoff from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport is one of a growing number of “sudden deaths” making news.
For example, U.S. soccer journalist Grant Wahl, age 49, died of an aortic aneurysm while covering the World Cup on December 9, his wife, Celine Grounder, M.D., told CBS. On January 2, 24-year-old Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a game, but three days later was breathing on his own. Victoria Lee, a ONE Championship “rising star”, aged 18, died on December 26 with no cause of death shared.
Captain Patrick Ford, 54, who had been hired by American Airlines’ regional carrier Envoy Air just two months earlier, was incapacitated midflight, and his first officer then safely landed the aircraft, carrying 57 passengers, back in Chicago.
Ford was pronounced dead upon arrival at a Chicago hospital on November 19, according to Envoy Air.
It is a very rare event for an airline pilot to die in flight, says Jane Orient, M.D., executive director of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and president of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness.
“Pilots becoming incapacitated in flight is of course extremely dangerous,” said Orient. “I’ve never heard of it happening before.”
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced it would investigate the incident but had not revealed Ford’s cause of death, as of press time. Neither American Airlines nor Envoy Air has revealed any details about Ford’s medical history or cause of death.
Ford’s collapse could have resulted in an air disaster, says Joshua Yoder, a pilot and medical freedom advocate.
“From a time perspective, that was a near miss,” said Yoder. “We know they were probably between 2,000 and 4,000 feet in altitude because the tower cleared them to climb and maintain 5,000 feet. So, they were certainly under 5,000 feet when the incapacitation occurred.”
If Ford had become incapacitated 45 seconds earlier, says Yoder, the airplane could have been in mid-rotation or just above the ground, causing a disaster.
Luckily, the copilot on Flight 3356 was a check airman—an experienced pilot who monitors the competency of new crew members during training, says Yoder.
“Everyone is very fortunate there was a senior check airman in the right seat and not a brand new first officer,” said Yoder. “Had that happened three trips later, there is a high probability there would have been a very junior and inexperienced first officer in the right seat.”
Copilot Brandon Hendrickson knew how to respond to Ford’s incapacitation, says Yoder.
“He did a phenomenal job,” said Yoder. “It was a perfect execution.”
COVID Shot Mandates
Yoder started a nonprofit group called US Freedom Flyers to oppose pilot and passenger vaccine mandates after President Biden announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, including major airlines.
US Freedom Flyers successfully sued to overturn the government mandate, but airlines were free to continue to enforce their own. Yoder says the private mandates broke the law because they required vaccinations with unapproved shots that are only allowed under an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FAA website states the agency “requires at least one year of post-marketing experience with a new drug before consideration for aeromedical certification purposes.”
Young Flyers’ Risk
Yoder says 80 percent of airline pilots have been injected with at least one round of shots (boosters are not required), and this puts pilots, particularly at regional carriers like Envoy Air, at risk for heart problems.
“The largest percentage of the regional airline population is males between the age of 23 and 39—that’s by far the largest age group,” said Yoder.
Florida Surgeon General Joseph A. Ladapo recommends against people between the ages of 18 and 39 getting an mRNA vaccination, based on research finding they have a heightened risk of cardiac-related death.
‘Flying with Myocarditis’
The FAA does not require heart tests for younger pilots, says Yoder.
“There’s no cardiac testing among pilots unless requested, until the age of 35,” said Yoder.
After pilots reach age 40, they get one cardiac test per year, but a standard electrocardiogram (EKG) is not designed to detect cardiac inflammation, says Yoder.
“The only cardiac testing that the FAA currently does is an EKG, and an EKG essentially does nothing more than take a snapshot of the heart’s electrical rhythm,” said Yoder. “It doesn’t test for inflammation. … That’s very concerning. In cases of myocarditis, more than 50 percent of people have subclinical cases, meaning they have no symptoms. The very first symptom could be sudden death. We potentially have thousands of pilots that are flying with myocarditis that have no idea. It will not be found on their normal physicals.”
Effective Heart Tests
Other tests, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), could detect heart inflammation, says Orient.
“They should arguably be adding a cardiac MRI to the fitness exams,” said Orient.
Yoder says many pilots are worried that adding cardiac testing to the fitness exam increases the likelihood of detecting a career-ending condition.
“Our goal is not to ground pilots who have these issues and destroy their careers,” said Yoder. “The goal is to find the problem, treat the problem, and get the pilot back on the flight deck.”
Harry Painter (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from Oklahoma.
Children’s Health Defense: “FAA Pilots Letter,” Filed Dec. 15, 2021 https://childrenshealthdefense.org/wp-content/uploads/FAA-pilots-letter.pdf
The Pete Santilli Show: “Episode #3235: The U.S. Department of Defense Covered Up Airline Pilots mRNA Deadly Shot Data,” Dec. 9, 2022: https://rumble.com/v200rqm-the-u.s.-department-of-defense-covered-up-the-pilots-data-regarding-the-mrn.html