Air France 777 Returns To Washington After Captain Feels Unwell

On May 28th, an Air France flight from Washington Dulles to Paris Charles de Gaulle returned to Washington after the pilot was taken ill. A passenger on the flight who was also a doctor treated the pilot who needed no further treatment and is now fine.

Air France 777 Returns To Washington After Captain Feels Unwell
An Air France Boeing 777-300 returned to Washington after the pilot was taken ill. Photo: Air France

What happened?

Reporting by the Aviation Herald suggests the Air France flight AF-55 was around 330NM east of Halifax, Canada, when it turned to return to Washington. The plane had just started to head out across the Atlantic when the pilot experienced some stomach problems. According to the crew report to Air Traffic Control, the pilot of the Boeing 777-300 fell ill with a stomach problem and decided to return to Washington rather than continue to Paris.

On the return approach to Washington, the pilot confirmed he had felt ill but was now feeling better. The pilot spoke to a doctor who was traveling onboard as a passenger. After a short time, the pilot said he decided to return to Washington due to the long-distance left to travel to Paris.

Air France 777 Returns To Washington After Captain Feels Unwell
The flight was off the east coast of Canada when it turned around and headed back to Washington. Graphic:

Upon landing in Washington, the pilot didn’t require further medical assistance, and the aircraft landed safely just under five hours after it had departed. The usual time for this flight is approximately six hours and 50 minutes. The aircraft, registration F-GSQC, then waited in Washington for 32 hours before operating flight AF-4081 to Paris.

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When a captain falls ill

Whatever took the pilot ill in this case clearly wasn’t that serious, but if it had been, there are a range of procedures in place to keep everyone safe. Firstly, the co-pilot is always fully trained on the aircraft, and so if the pilot is incapacitated, the aircraft can be safely landed without them.

If the medical situation was serious, the Air France aircraft could have diverted and landed in another airport. Both New York and Philadelphia were closer. In cases of serious emergencies, aircraft can divert to seek medical attention on the ground as soon as possible. Clearly, that wasn’t needed for this pilot, who appeared fine upon landing back in Washington.

Air France 777 Returns To Washington After Captain Feels Unwell
If the Pilot falls ill, the co-pilot can land the plane without assistance. However, in this case, that wasn’t necessary. Photo: Air France

A similar incident

Aircraft diverting or returning to base due to medical reasons isn’t unheard of. A similar incident occurred in April when an All Nippon Airways pilot had a stroke. The flight was heading to Tokyo from Paris and was flying over Russia at the time. Due to the seriousness of the incident, the plane diverted to Novosibirsk. The pilot was then treated by medical professionals and taken to a hospital.

It is unusual to have a flight diverted for medical reasons and then not require medical assistance on the ground. Diverting a flight costs time and money and doesn’t exactly make passengers happy. Usually, they only divert for serious reasons which require further medical attention once on the ground. So to divert a flight and then not need further assistance is uncommon.

What do you think? If the pilot was fine by the time they landed, should he have diverted? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.