An airline pilot who died at the controls in mid-air had no known health problems, his wife said today.
Captain Craig Lenell, 60, suffered a fatal heart attack while in charge of a Continental Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Belgium
to Newark airport in New Jersey.
The wide-bodied jet was safely landed by two co-pilots with most of the 247 passengers unaware of the cockpit drama. Officials said the passengers were never in any danger.
Federal aviation rules state transatlantic flights must have a reserve officer
as well as the normal flight crew of two. The reserve is on standby should the pilots fall ill or get tired.
Captain Lenell's wife, Lynda, said her husband was "in perfect health" when he left for Brussels
. He had passed the twice-yearly medical required by US pilots over the age of 60.
The medical includes an electrocardiogram and blood pressure check. Mrs Lenell said her husband, a former Air Force pilot who served in the Vietnam
war, had no known heart condition.
'He was the kindest, gentlest man I've ever known. He would do anything for anyone," she said.
'Flying was his life. He died doing what made him happiest."-The Lenells, who have six children-live on a farm in the rural town of Flynn, about 90 miles north of Houston, Texas.
Continental Airlines Flight 61 landed safely at Newark, New Jersey after the pilot died en route from Brussels
Like most senior pilots he would fly on average 85 hours a month and had been with Continental for 32 years.
Mr Lenell said until yesterday's tragedy her husband had never missed a day of work until two years ago when he suffered a burst appendix.
Her husband had a heart attack three hours into the nine-and-a-half-hour flight from Brussels to Newark.
Help: Passenger, Dr Julien Struyzen, says he was called to the cockpit when the pilot fell ill but the pilot was already 'clinically dead'
The co-pilots thought he had fallen asleep but when he failed to wake, a call was made over the intercom for a doctor to approach the flight deck.
Belgian cardiologist Dr Julien Struyven, 72, who went into the cockpit to examine the pilot, said there was 'no chance at all' of saving him.
TV channels carried news of the landing 'live' and although emergency vehicles were on the runway at Newark they were only precautionary and were not needed.
Two co-pilots took to the controls of the Boeing 777 to ensure a safe landing
Many passengers only discovered what had happened when they turned on their mobile phones to find messages from concerned family who had watched the TV bulletins.
Martha Love, who was sitting in first class, said passengers weren't told exactly what was going on.
'No one knew,' she said. She only became concerned after the plane landed, when she saw fire trucks and emergency vehicles on the runway.
Another passenger, Simon Shapiro, said: 'I didn't hear anything or see anything. I was wondering why there were so many cops.'
Kathleen Ledger said she was impressed with the way the crew handled the situation. 'They did an incredible job,' she said