It was “not your ordinary workday,” admitted a flight attendant who had to stand in for a sick co-pilot, but 61 year old Patti DeLuna said her actions were “not heroic by any means.” It helped that DeLuna has had a pilot’s licence since 1970 and has logged over 300 hours in the air, albeit in a Cessna, not a Boeing 767.
The first officer on American Airlines flight 1612 from San Francisco to Chicago became ill Monday with flulike symptoms an hour or so into the journey. When Captain Jim Hunter deemed the first officer too ill to fly, the flight’s purser looked at the passenger list for off-duty pilots, but none were onboard.
DeLuna and the purser both had piloting experience, but DeLuna had slightly more and a commercial license, she said, so Captain Hunter tapped her to assist.
"I went up about an hour and a half before landing and talked at length to the captain and familiarized myself with the cockpit and asked him, ‘So, what is this?’ and ‘where are the brakes?’" DeLuna said.
Captain Hunter was "exemplary" and "so collected and so together," DeLuna said, that her role was primarily to support him should he need help. "He did everything by himself pretty much," she said. "I watched for traffic and listened for information from air traffic control just as a backup for him."
The plane, carrying 225 passengers and seven crew members, landed safely at O’Hare International Airport at 4:24 p.m. Monday."The entire incident was handled very well on all accounts," said American Airlines’ spokesman Tim Wagner.
"The view is much better" from the cockpit, DeLuna said. "It’s exciting and it’s fun and this was a real opportunity for me.