Passenger Takes Control Of Plane As Pilot Suffers Medical Emergency

A passenger was recently forced to land a plane in North Carolina after the pilot — a professor at Duke University — suffered a fatal medical issue.

WRAL News reported that Joseph Izatt was commanding a Cirrus SR-20 when he suffered an unexplained medical condition.

The passenger, who has not been named, was the only other individual on board. He eventually took over the plane’s controls and safely landed at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

While speaking to ABC 11, onlooker Eevan Caulfield said, “I knew I was witnessing something.”

Before hearing about the incident, Caulfield was listening to his radio scanner as he dropped his daughter off at the airport. He captured video footage of the paramedics loading someone who appears to be Izatt onto a stretcher into an ambulance on the runway.

It is unknown if Izatt was pronounced dead on the tarmac or later at the hospital.

Air traffic control radio indicates that an individual in the passenger seat took control of the plane after Izatt “stumbled over the controls.”

The plane, registered to Izatt, took off from Raleigh-Durham International Airport at 3:30 p.m.

The New York Post noted that Izatt was the Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Engineering at Duke University and chair of the school’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Izatt had worked at the school since 2001 and was “a pioneer in medical imaging,” according to the New York Post.

Duke University announced Izatt’s death on April 8, 2024, and ordered flags on campus to be flown at half-staff.

“Since joining Duke in 2001, Izatt served the university through dedicated service to his students and colleagues, and as a pioneering researcher,” the university said in a statement.

“Izatt was a skilled researcher and inventor who played a foundational role in the development of optical coherence tomography (OCT). The non-invasive medical imaging technique uses optical interferometry to peer through layers of soft tissue, such as the retina at the back of the eye, to provide richly detailed images that guide diagnosis and treatment decision,” it added.

Duke University Dean Jerome Lynch paid tribute to his late colleague, calling him “an exceptionally thoughtful leader who weighed every decision with a care that originated with his deep love for the BME community.”