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Pilot Dies Mid-Flight, Co-Pilots Land Continental Plane Safely

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Boeing 777A Continental jet has landed in safely in New Jersey, several hours after the pilot reportedly died mid-flight.

The Boeing 777 was en route from Brussels to Newark when the 61-year-old pilot collapsed.

A doctor on board apparently tried to revive him but was unsuccessful.

The pilot was pronounced dead about three hours into the flight, at which time his body was taken out of the cockpit and placed in a crew rest area.

The airline did not specify the captain’s name nor how he died, except to say that it was from “natural causes.” He had been with Continental for more than 20 years.

A co-pilot and a relief pilot both took over the controls and safely shepherded Flight 61 to Newark, where it landed at 11:49 a.m. EST. All 247 passengers arrived safe and unharmed. Emergency equipment was readied at the airport as a precaution, but it was not needed.

Continental logoContinental said that its co-pilots are fully qualified to handle any and all flight duties, because they are given the exact same training as pilots. The airline says that it gives its copilots more training than federal law requires.

There have only been two other instances in the last two years of pilots of large aircraft dying in mid-flight. In February 2008 a first officer died on a British Airways flight from Manchester, England to Cyprus, and in January 2007 a Continental pilot died after taking off from Houston airport en route to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Before December 13, 2007 pilots were required to retire when they reached age 60, but Congress changed the law and now allows pilots to fly up to age 65.

By Karen Elowitt for PeterGreenberg.com.

Related links: CNN, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse, New York Times, USA Today

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