American Airlines pilot who died during flight identified as Utah man

An American Airlines pilot that died Monday while flying from Phoenix to Boston has been identified as 57-year-old Michael Johnston of West Jordan, Utah.

Johnston was piloting Flight 550 Monday morning when he fell ill en route. Johnston’s co-pilot safely touched-down in Syracuse, New York after announcing an emergency landing.

Autopsy and toxicology results led the Onondaga County coroner’s office to rule Johnston’s death “the result of natural diseases.” The coroner’s office did not offer additional details Tuesday morning.

BJ Johnston, the pilot’s wife, told KUTV-TV that her husband had a double bypass surgery in 2006. She said he likely died of a heart attack.

Frank Cacciola was one of the 147 passengers and five crew members aboard Flight 550 when it took off around midnight. 

“Whatever happened in the cockpit, none of us will know,” Cacciola told WCVB-TV.

Passengers knew something was wrong when a woman’s “quivering” voice came over the intercom saying that “the pilot was sick,” passenger Peter McSwiggin told WCVB.

“If it wasn’t for the copilot using a cool head,” McSwiggin said, “it might have been more disastrous.”

CNN Contributed to this report.

Contact Chris Kudialis at or 702-380-4593. Find him on Twitter: @kudialisrj

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