Pilot died of heart attack in mid-flight

June 19, 2009 at 1:27 PM

NEWARK, N.J., June 19 (UPI) -- Passengers aboard a Brussels-to-Newark, N.J.-bound Continental Airlines flight weren't aware that their pilot died mid-flight, one traveler said.

Doctors say 60-year-old pilot Craig Lenell died of an apparent heart attack Thursday as he commanded Flight 61, the Houston Chronicle reported Friday. The co-pilot and a backup pilot who was part of the crew landed the plane at Newark Liberty Airport, the plane's destination.

Passenger Simon Schapira of New York said when fight attendants paged a doctor, he suspected a crew member was sick, not that the pilot suddenly died.

When he disembarked, reporters asked whether he was told that the pilot died, Schapira said.

"I said, 'What? Never heard of it,'" he said.

Schapira said he was glad the flight crew withheld the news during the eight-hour flight, explaining he feared panic would have ensued.

Continental said the captain, a native of Houston, had been with the airline 32 years.

Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta personnel boarded the plane after it landed -- standard procedure in such cases, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey told the Chronicle. Passengers were allowed deplane then a medical examiner removed Lenell's body.

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