Close Call: Chicago Pilot Dies Instantly 20 Seconds After Takeoff

Skycolors /
Skycolors /

We’ve been truly spoiled in America when it comes to airline safety in recent years. Fatal crashes are rare. Most of the time, fatal crashes happen overseas and involve some backwater foreign airlines. Even as safe as the industry has been here in America, few people would like the idea of flying on a plane with just one pilot.

Unfortunately for the passengers, that’s exactly what the airline industry is pushing for right now: Solo pilot flights. As if the idea could not be bad enough on its own, we just had the perfect example of why that’s a bad idea in Chicago. The pilot of a 76-set passenger jet just died 20 seconds after takeoff from O’Hare.

The incident happened on Saturday, November 19th. Just 20 seconds after takeoff, as the plane was 2,000 feet in the air and climbing, Captain Patrick Ford died at the controls. He was in mid-sentence talking to the Control Tower when his microphone went silent.

“Can we help you?” asked the air traffic controller on the audio, which has gone public. 17 seconds later, after he prevented the plane from crashing into a residential neighborhood, Captain Brandon Hendrickson, the co-pilot, came on the radio to announce that the pilot was incapacitated. He climbed to 5,000 feet, turned the plane around, and safely landed it. Captain Ford was dead in his seat when the plane touched down.

That story could have had a very different ending if Ford had been a solo pilot, obviously.

The big question that everyone is asking now is whether this was a Covid shot-related death. The airlines have had crippling pilot shortages ever since they tried to mandate the Covid shots for all employees. Many pilots retired early or found something else to do with their time since the shots were an obvious disaster just a few months into the rollout. Airline pilots are not easily replaced. It takes about 2 years to complete the 1,500 hours required in the air before a person can fly a passenger jet. So, this self-induced shortage that the industry put on itself is not going away anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency is working with the airlines to begin implementing solo flights as soon as 2027 across Europe. Airlines are asking the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) for permission to shift the industry to solo-pilot flights everywhere, including in the US.

If you think that passengers hate the idea, you should hear what the pilots are saying. They REALLY hate the idea. Tony Lucas, the president of the Australian and International Pilots’ Association, puts it like this: “The people going down this route aren’t the people who fly jets every day. When things go awry, they go awry fairly quickly.”

That’s true. When Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, it happened in just 3 minutes. The pilot was resting, and the two co-pilots were monitoring things from the cockpit when some of the plane’s sensors malfunctioned. In the 90 seconds it took the pilot to wake up and run to the cockpit, the plane had gone into an irreversible stall. Even with three qualified pilots on board, they weren’t able to pull the plane out of a steep dive. 228 people died.

In Chicago, the passenger jet went into a steep bank according to witnesses before the co-pilot saved the day. That could have been catastrophic, especially if the plane had crashed in a residential neighborhood.

Apparently, the airlines think that would be an acceptable risk because that’s the direction the industry is headed after they tried to force the Covid shots on pilots.