Continental Pilot Dies in Flight, Plane Lands Safely

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NEWARK, N.J. - The pilot of a Continental Airlines flight from Brussels to Newark died over the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday, but the jet landed safely with two co-pilots at the controls.

Flight 61 touched down on-time just before noon at Newark Liberty International Airport, authorities said. The Boeing 777 was carrying 247 passengers, said Kelly Cripe, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based airline.

Passengers weren't told of the pilot's death in flight. During the flight, an announcement was made asking if any doctors were aboard and several passengers approached the cockpit.

The 61-year-old Newark-based pilot, with more than 20 years of service to the airline, is believed to have died of natural causes, Cripe said.

A relief pilot was on board during the flight and took the place of the deceased pilot, she said.

"The flight continued safely with two pilots at the controls," she said in a statement.

Martha Love, a passenger from Greenwich, N.J., who was sitting in the first row of the plane, said passengers weren't told exactly what was going on in the cockpit.

"No one knew," she said. She only became concerned when after the plane landed, she saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles lined up along the runway.

Simon Shapiro, a passenger from Brooklyn, N.Y., was also unaware of the drama.

"I didn't hear anything or see anything," Shapiro said. "I was wondering why there were so many cops."

As a precaution, the airport's emergency crews were sent to meet the plane.

In 2007, another Continental pilot died at the controls after becoming ill during a flight from Houston to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. It landed safely with a co-pilot at the controls after being diverted to McAllen-Miller International Airport.

Associated Press Writer Beth DeFalco in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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