Passenger Safely Lands Plane After Pilot’s Fatal Medical Emergency

In an incident over the weekend, a passenger stepped up to land a small plane in North Carolina after the pilot, a prominent Duke University professor, suffered a fatal medical emergency.

On Sunday afternoon, Professor Joseph Izatt was at the controls of a Cirrus SR-20 when he experienced an unexplained health crisis. WRAL News reported that the professor was slumped over the controls. The only other person on board was an unnamed passenger, who took charge.

Guiding the Cirrus SR-20, the passenger skillfully maneuvered the aircraft and safely landed it at Raleigh-Durham International Airport around 4:50 p.m.

Eyewitness Eevan Caulfield, who took a video on his cell phone of paramedics loading an individual into an ambulance, described the intense scene to ABC11: “I knew I was witnessing something.” Caulfield had been listening to his radio scanner while dropping off his daughter at the airport when news of the emergency reached him.

Joseph Izatt, the Michael J. Fitzpatrick Professor of Engineering at Duke University, had been a pioneering force in medical imaging. His contributions spanned over two decades, with more than 200 published papers and over 75 U.S. patents. Duke University honored Izatt’s memory by lowering campus flags to half-staff.

On Monday, Duke released a statement: “Since joining Duke in 2001, Izatt served the university through dedicated service to his students and colleagues, and as a pioneering researcher. During his tenure as chair of Duke BME, he championed the successes of all within the community and worked with faculty, staff and students to ensure the department supported their goals.”

Jerome Lynch, dean of Duke’s engineering school, remembered Izatt as “an exceptionally thoughtful leader who weighed every decision with a care that originated with his deep love for the BME community.”

It is not known whether Izatt was pronounced dead on the tarmac or later at the hospital.

The single-engine plane, registered to Izatt, had taken off from Raleigh-Durham airport earlier that day, and the incident did not disrupt other airport operations.

Joseph Izatt leaves behind his wife and three children.