Another timeless story of the exemplary acts committed by those in service.
Off-duty Air Force Capt. Mike Gongol and his family were on their way back from visiting family in Iowa – the United flight back to their home was expected to be like any other. However, the Des Moines to Denver flight went awry when a medical emergency emerged from the cockpit. The pilot had a sudden heart attack approximately 30 minutes after take-off. That’s when Capt. Gongol rose to the occasion to help save the 160 passengers onboard. Additionally, Lunda Alleiss, a nurse onboard, also helped to save the pilot’s life.
Capt. Mark Gongol (Photo by U.S. Air Force, AFSC)
Capt. Gongol, as a B-1B Lancer pilot, knew something was wrong when the 737’s engines powered down to idle after cruising 32000 feet in the air. The plane began to descend and drift towards the right – Gongol’s instincts told him this was no minor incident. Soon, a flight attendant spoke over the public address system.
“A flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board the plane,” Gongol said in an interview with the AFSC. “A few more calls went out for medical professionals and the flight attendants were all hurrying to first class with their beverage carts and a first-aid kit.”
Luckily, nurse Lunda Alleiss was on board to assist the doctor – she rushed to his aid. However, another distressing message came over the PA.
According to AFSC, “A fourth call went out, ‘are there any non-revenue pilots on board, please ring your call button.’ Immediately, Gongol realized the pilot was the patient. He looked to his wife; as she gave him a nod, Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight deck.”
Gongol approached the first-officer who had undertaken then responsibility of the pilot. After a short exchange, they both assessed what they each had to do.
As reported by the reporter Staff Sgt. Morgan, “Gongol was calm and collected, and the first officer decided that he would be most useful to […] back her up on the aircraft’s checklists and look for anything going wrong.
Having been an aircraft commander, Gongol is used to making decisions, but he knew the best way to get the aircraft down safely was to play a support role to the first officer and make things as normal as possible for her.”
Gongol simply played a support role, nonetheless a crucial part in helping the co-pilot take over. The first-officer and Gongol went through the landing checklist, and the co-pilot eased the plane onto the tarmac. Furthermore, Gongol assisted her with taxiing the plane, where the pilot was rushed to the emergency room shortly after.
Thanks to Capt. Gongol (not to mention nurse Alleiss aiding the pilot), the co-pilot was able to touch the 160 souls onboard safely on the ground.
“I saw nothing but the finest professionalism under pressure out of the flight attendants, the nurses and the first officer,” Gongol said. “Everyone aboard the aircraft remained calm, there is no doubt in my mind this contributed above all else to our successful outcome. In my opinion any military pilot would have done the exact same thing I did.”