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Denver-bound flight diverted due to medical emergency

10:35 PM, Dec 31, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - A captain on a Denver-bound United Airlines flight fell ill Monday night, forcing the plane to make an unscheduled landing in Omaha with 154 passengers on board.

Flight 1637 was flying from Des Moines, to Denver. It landed safely at Denver International Airport Tuesday morning.

"From my point of view, I saw the flight attendant walking to the front of the plane with an AED. That's not good at all," passenger Michael Glade said.

The captain was in trouble.

"It was chaotic at the front," Glade said. "They extricated him out of the cockpit and then they laid him on the floor in the first class area, and they got an IV on him," Glade said.

Sources tell 9NEWS the 61-year-old captain had a possible heart issue. Two nurses happened to be on board.

"At that point, we kind of did what we know, just trying to keep him as stable as we can until we got on the ground," Wyoming nurse Amy Sorensen said.

Everything turned out fine. The co-pilot landed the plane. 9NEWS aviation expert Greg Feith said crews train for this. Illness in the skies happens.

"Those pilots aren't machines; they are humans and they may catch a cold or catch the flu," Feith said. "A cardiac event is going to be a discussion issue, because the FAA raised the retirement age from 60 to 65 for the last several years, and they're going to start looking at these incapacitating events, physiological events with the pilots. It might be they revisit this 65 age retirement."

Passengers are home now and for that they're thankful.

"I think that United did a pretty great job considering the situation," Glade said.

United Airlines has not released the official condition of the captain other than to say he is OK.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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