Pilot dies on red eye flight bound for Boston

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BOSTON (MyFoxBoston.com) -  An American Airlines pilot died during a flight to Boston early Monday morning, forcing his copilot to make an emergency landing.

The pilot died from an unspecified "illness." The Airbus A320 jet left Phoenix just before midnight and diverted to Syracuse Hancock International Airport shortly after 7 a.m. 

Upon descent, crew members told the 147 people on board that the pilot was ill and the flight was being diverted, several passengers told FOX25.

"They just said, 'Hi. We have to make an emergency landing. The pilot's not feeling well,'" said Michael Litterio. "When we landed, we thought that he just wasn't feeling well. We had no idea he had passed. It was extremely shocking."

FOX25 obtained air traffic control communications as the copilot of Flight 550 prepared for an early landing.

"Syracuse, American 550 is out at 15,000 for 5,000," the crew says. "Medical emergency, the captain is incapacitated. Request handling for runway, one-zero landing."

"They said that the pilot was really sick, and that was it," Julia House said." And we saw ambulances pulling up."

Passengers waited inside the airport as emergency crews removed the body and prepared the plane for another crew to pilot the aircraft to Boston. The somber news was confirmed when they re-boarded the plane. The flight finally arrived at Logan Airport shortly after noon.

"I really think you've got to hand it to the copilot," said passenger Frank Cacciola, "Because, I'll tell you, I don't know what I would've done in that situation."

Cacciola and a few other passengers took pictures of a rainbow that formed while the pilot's body was removed from the plane in Syracuse. They said the unexpected sight provided comfort.

"This rainbow came out, and the skies opened up," Cacciola said. "As if his spirit was leaving the plane and going to heaven."

The photo attached to this post is believed to be of the late pilot, Michael Johnston, from what appears to be his Facebook page.