I was lost. I never liked the airport in Las Vegas, although I did love the city. My flight had just landed and me and my co-pilot (usually) were lost in the KLAS jungle. We went to the airline lounge to find directions, “Hello captain what can I do for you today?” the greeter at the lounge asked. I pulled my ID “Hi, I’m Jason O’Brian and this is my co-pilot Reed Alchuka. We are a bit lost; do you know how to get to the baggage claim?” I asked. “Yes, follow the signs after getting on the moving walkway, left at gate B, then you should see and escalator and an arrow that says ‘Baggage Claim’ after that it’s right in front of you” she said. “Thanks!” Reed said. “Let’s hurry, we got a flight to catch, meet your uncle say good-bye and were on a new plane down to San Francisco” I said, Reed laughed knowing how crazy it was that we are getting off mid-stop to meet his uncle in Vegas. We met him, they talked and we rushed back up to gate C2. We were gonna be off again soon.
“You go!” Reed says for the 60th time. “Fine” I said, we were arguing about who should go do final checks before departing for San Francisco. Neither of us wanted to go out into the 100 degree weather but I did, I rushed around checking small things just in case the ground crew missed it. Everything was good so I climbed up the stairs back to the flight deck of the 737. “Ohhh, sweaty I see!” Reed said. “Shut up!” I say. That was the last time we could talk before we were cruising at 35,000 feet on auto-pilot, airline policy requires only work related speech while conducting flight ops. It was a VFR flight so nothing special just fly the route with auto-pilot and check for traffic. I called for ground clearance “Vegas ground Alaska 724, VFR to San Francisco ready for taxi northbound off of 34R? If possible”
“Alaska 724, roger taxi to and hold short of runway 34R via taxiway Bravo two, Bravo, Bravo one zero, Kilo, and hold short of Kilo six”
“724, down to 34R via Bravo two, Bravo, Bravo one zero, Kilo, then we will hold at Kilo six.” We then taxied to the runway and waited for a while. “Alaska… 724, cleared for takeoff 34R caution another 737 on 34L… Actually landing 34L, umm, wind 330 at 12, gusts 18 and altimeter is 30.01” the tower said.
“Cleared for takeoff 34R, will watch for traffic Alaska 724” Reed acknowledged.
“Altimeter set, flight controls, free and correct, flaps down two notches, oil pressure and temperature good, passenger briefing coming up, run up complete…” Reed went down the checklist and I did the passenger briefing. “Ladies and gentlemen this is you captain speaking, I’m Jason O’Brian and I will be your pilot for today. We are going to fly non-stop to San Francisco and continue down to Seattle, and that will be all. We have been cleared for departure please remain in your seats with your seatbelts fastened until the fasten seatbelt sign goes off. We ask you please keep your electronics turned off until we are above 10,000 feet, all phones should remain off for the duration of the flight, or they can be turned on airplane mode above 10,000 feet. Sit back relax and enjoy your flight!” We then took off and contacted departure frequency. We finally reached cruising altitude (35,000 feet) and got the autopilot tuned but before we knew it a problem came up. “Captain we have a medical emergency!” I hear through the cockpit intercom.
“What’s the status?”
“Looks like a seizure and he is unconscious but breathing, the doctor on-board is helping him he says you should make an emergency diversion ASAP”
“Ok will do that I’ll tell the passengers” I picked up the microphone while Reed called the nearest airport. “Ladies and gentlemen from the flight deck, we have a medical emergency onboard and must divert to an airport to be determined we are sorry for your inconvenience and we will be back on track soon.” Reed started talking to air traffic control “Alaska 724 Los Angeles Center, we have a medical emergency and need to divert to nearest airport”
“Alaska 724, hold on I’ll get you one in a second”
“724 nearest airports are…. Looks like pretty much just San Jose International, so can you get down to KSJC maybe?”
“Alaska 724, yeah we can do that but can you clear the runways so we can get priority?”
“Of course I will call SJC now”
“Thanks, tell them we are coming in fast.” There was a small pause then:
“724 take any runway you want they say call them up when you are on two mile final and the weather is 80’s light wind and altimeter 29.98”
“Roger Los Angeles Center, thanks so much”
We circled down to 4,000 feet and listened to the ATIS and prepared for approach. I told the passengers and flight attendants we were going into San Jose and they said the man was still unconscious and they weren’t sure what was wrong. “The doctor onboard is an eye doctor so he doesn’t know much about ‘real medical stuff’” the flight attendant said. Then we knew we had to hurry.
“San Jose Tower, Alaska 724, with a declared emergency on two-mile final for 16L, with medical problem” I said.
“724 all traffic is clear, verify number of souls aboard”
“122 souls aboard, Alaska 724”
“Roger, 724 cleared straight in for 16L, wind 230 at 8, gusts 12, altimeter 29.98”
“Cleared to land 16L, 724”
We landed in San Jose and I immediately gunned it to the gate parked and shut down the engines. Medics came aboard and took the man off the plane, the EMT’s said he would be fine, just an allergic reaction of some kind. Just a semi-short flight back to Seattle and we would be home. It was an eventful flight but nothing I couldn’t handle. We made it safely back to Seattle, and went to Dicks Drive-In. I can’t wait for tomorrow, I’m going to Texas, with Reed again. That’s all for this time.
-Jason O’Brian, Captain for Alaska Airlines. Once a pilot, always a pilot.
-Reed Alchuka, Co-Pilot for Alaska Airlines. Fresh out of the Air National Guard.
-Special thanks to the executives, ground crews, other pilots, air traffic controllers, medics, and of course the FAA to make this possible. Stay tuned for scenes from the next episode of “An Aviator’s Day” thanks for reading.