An El Al pilot in a flight from Tel Aviv to Venice was forced to perform emergency landing in Dubrovnik, Croatia Thursday, after his co-pilot felt sick and collapsed on top of the controls. The collapse didn't cause a change of route, because the aircraft was on auto-pilot. There were 98 passengers and six crew members aboard the plane.
The plane took off at 6 am, traveling in a new flight route that was introduced just a few months earlier. Some two hours after takeoff and an hour and a half before landing in Venice, the first officer, a 43 year old man with six years of seniority in the airline, went to use the bathroom and, upon returning to the cockpit, told the captain he wasn't feeling well.
The captain, who noticed his colleague was in bad shape, called the leading flight attendant to update him on the situation, and started searching for a nearby airport fit for landing - according to El Al procedures.
At this point, a dramatic scene was unfolding inside the cockpit when the ill pilot collapsed on the controls. The captain and the leading attendant moved him to the back of the cockpit.
The aircraft was, as previously mentioned, on auto pilot, and so the pilot's fall on the controls didn't present any disturbance to the regular flight course, thanks to a system built in such a way that it can be neutralized in situations of extreme distress.
Despite that it was highly important to move the pilot away from the controls; due to the fact that the Captain was forced to shut down auto pilot in order to use the controls to search for an alternative airport to land at. The captain and first officer's controls are connected to each other mechanically, which made it all the way imperative to move the first officer away from them.
At the same time, the crew located a family doctor on board who examined the first officer and provided him with initial treatment. When the plane eventually landed in Dubrovnik, she accompanied him to a local hospital. Meanwhile, the crew reported the incident and the airline sent a private jet to replace the plane's crew and fly the first officer back to Israel.
El Al praised the captain's equanimity during the incident, that helped bring the plane to a safe landing.
After the first officer was examined at the hospital in Dubrovnik, he was discharged after no medical problem was found.
Last week, several El Al flights using the airline's Boeing 737-800 fleet were cancelled because the pilots hadn't shown up for their flight, to protest the dangerous workload forced on them by the airline.
Several pilots said following the incident that the pilot who collapsed wasn't meant to be on the flight, but he was on standby and was called in on the last minute.
"It's true that the pilots and the airline's management reached an agreement, but we are still working way beyond our physical abilities and the cumulative fatigue could definitely be the cause to this incident," said one of the pilots.