Humble man identified as pilot who died after in-flight heart attack

United flight 1603 was diverted to Boise, Idaho

BOISE, IDAHO - The United Airlines captain who died after suffering a mid-flight heart attack has been identified as 63-year-old Henry Skillern, of Humble.

The captain was piloting United Flight 1603 from Houston to Seattle when the emergency occurred just before 8 p.m. Thursday forcing an off-duty pilot to take over control of the plane. Two Madigan Army Medical Center doctors onboard performed CPR, according to Jay Ebbeson, a spokesman for the hospital at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Ebberson says the two are captains and radiology residents who were returning to the base near Tacoma, Wash., from a medical course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. They were unavailable Friday to talk about the incident, he said.

The plane made an emergency landing in Boise and Skillern was still alive when he was taken to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, but he died during treatment, spokeswoman Jennifer Krajnik said Friday.

"Our thoughts are with his family at this time," United wrote in a statement to Local 2.

Skillern, originally from Silsbee, was an Air Force veteran and had worked for United Airlines for 26 years.

United Airlines spokeswoman Christen David said another off-duty United Airlines pilot was onboard and helped land the plane.

Passengers said the plane touched down in Boise just minutes after they were informed of the medical emergency.

"They called for a doctor and said they had a medical emergency and told everyone to stay seated. We were on the ground about ten minutes later," said passenger Scott Hyde.

"We dropped out of the sky and we were in Boise before you just couldn't believe it. It was fast, he made some really really radical moves to get us there but he did a good job. It was a decent landing," said passenger Jeff Moehlenburck.

Pilots are required to get medical certificates that show they don't have major heart problems, according to the Federal Aviation Administration website.

The Boeing 737-900 had 161 passengers and a crew of six on board.

David says another pilot flew the plane and passengers to Sea-Tac Airport.

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