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Pilot suffers heart-attack in the middle of flight, passenger lands plane

By AYIE LICSI Published Apr 11, 2024 12:03 pm

A 61-year-old pilot, a prominent professor at Duke University, suffered a heart attack while in the air and died. His passenger was able to land the plane.

Professor Joseph Izatt, who served as the chair of Duke's Department of Biomedical Engineering, was manning a Cirrus SR-20 flight on April 7 afternoon when he suddenly had a medical emergency.

Initial reports from WRAL News did not specify the health complication but Inside Edition said that it was due to a heart attack.

Izatt's unnamed passenger, the only other person on board, was able to safely land the aircraft at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

The air traffic control radio told ABC11 that an individual in the passenger seat took over the aircraft after the pilot was "slumped over the controls."

Evan Caufield, an onlooker from the tarmac, witnessed the landing and captured a video of paramedics loading Izatt on a stretcher. It isn't clear if the professor died during the flight or after.

"I knew I was witnessing something," he said to ABC11.

Izatt's death was confirmed by Duke University, which had campus flags at half-staff after the news.

The professor joined Duke in 2001 and has been considered a pioneer in the biomedical imaging field during his tenure.

This wouldn't be the first time a passenger had to take over controls after a pilot is left incapacitated.

In 2022, 39-year-old Darren Harrison, who had no experience flying a plane, took over the controls of a single-engine plane from the Bahamas after the pilot passed out.