Albuquerque businessman Stephen W. Brown doesn't consider himself a hero.
But when a medical emergency struck down the captain of a nearly full Continental Airlines jet flying to Mexico, Brown climbed out of his passenger seat and into the cockpit.
The 47-year-old licensed private pilot, who usually flies a single-engine Cessna, helped land the Boeing 757-300 loaded with 209 other passengers at McAllen-Miller International Airport in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday.
The plane had taken off from Houston on a flight to Puerto Vallarta when the co-pilot called for help. Brown responded.
"Yes, it was a rush," Brown told the Journal in an e-mail Wednesday from Puerto Vallarta, where he was still on a business vacation. "A combination of sheer excitement and shock kept my heart racing from beginning to end.
"I suppose most private pilots daydream about this sort of scenario where assistance is needed on the flight deck," he said. "The sad part, of course, is how I ended up on the flight deck."
The captain later died. The nature of his illness has not been disclosed.
While a few flight attendants and passengers tended to the stricken pilot, the co-pilot took over as captain of the plane. He then asked over the intercom whether there were any pilots on board.
"There's nothing wrong with that," said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Roland Herwig, who confirmed Brown's role in the emergency landing. "The (acting) captain can take any action for the sake of safety."
For some passengers on the flight, the broadcast request may have caused anxiety, Brown said, "but everybody remained calm."
A co-owner of Johnstone Supply, Brown was on the flight with his wife, Kristin Brown, and several business associates and customers.
Brown and one of his companions, also a licensed private pilot, stepped up to the front of the plane in response to the call for assistance.
Brown said that at that point, he wasn't nervous because he knew one pilot can land a 757. And as a licensed pilot himself, he also knew about a protocol called cockpit resource management.
"The captain knew full well he could land the aircraft without my or anyone else's help; however, protocol dictates he look for assistance," he said.
Brown, who has logged 150 hours of flight time since he got his pilot's license 1 1/2 years ago, got the nod over his companion.
"When I sat in the right seat, the captain looked at me and asked, 'When was the last time you flew?' '' he said. "I told him last week and he said, 'Good, you're current.' ''
The co-pilot-turned-captain told Brown that he had 28 years of experience.
"At that moment, I was undoubtedly the least nervous person on the plane," Brown said. "I knew, while technically it was deemed an 'emergency situation,' the captain would land the aircraft without incident."
Brown's role was to perform some standard radio work, coreview checklists and lower flaps and landing gear as instructed.
A 757 is nearly twice as long as a regulation basketball court, with a wingspan of 125 feet. Pilots use a computerized, fully integrated flight control system with electronic displays.
"What an incredible opportunity," Brown said about helping to land the plane.
He said the real credit goes to the flight crew members and passengers who tried to revive the captain.
Brown said credit also goes to the pilot who took over but who hasn't been identified by Continental Airlines.
"The pilot next to me was a true professional, dedicated to doing his job even in the most difficult of emotional situations," he said.
Continental Airlines confirmed basic information about the flight but would not release any detail, pending a federal review.
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