Arriving at the flight deck, Gongol saw four flight
attendants and two passenger nurses assembling a
make-shift bed, medical kits were strewn across the
ground and the captain of the aircraft was seated in his
chair, eyes dilated, sweaty, clammy and disoriented.
Gongol immediately thought the pilot was suffering some
serious cardiac trauma.
"After they moved the pilot, I was asked by the first
officer, 'are you a pilot,' which was quickly followed
with 'what do you fly,'" said Gongol. "I knew she was in
a serious situation and that question gave her five
seconds to judge if I would be useful. I also had about
five seconds to asses her, 'was she panicking, or was
she OK to fly the aircraft?' We both finished our silent
assessments, she made the right judgment and told me to
close the door and have a seat."
From there, Gongol was calm and collected, and the first
officer decided that he would be most useful to talk on
the radios, back her up on the aircraft's checklists and
look for anything going wrong.
Having been an aircraft commander, Gongol is used to
making decisions, but he knew the best way to get the
aircraft down safely was to play a support role to the
first officer and make things as normal as possible for
her. In an emergency situation, he had the ability to
place himself outside the situation for a second and
make the right call.
"She was calm, but you could tell she was a little
stressed, who wouldn't be," said Gongol. "At the
beginning, I interrupted her flow of operations, but we
figured everything out extremely quickly. She was very
There were hundreds of issues the two pilots talked
through on the aircraft while descending; cabin
pressure, approach, contact with air traffic control,
visual cues and programming of the auto-pilot were just
a few, said Gongol. At about 500 feet above ground
level, the first officer hand-flew the approach to a
After landing, the first officer turned to Gongol and
asked if he knew where to taxi, she had never been to
the Omaha airport before. Taken aback by how cool, calm
and collected the first officer had acted without
knowing the airport, Gongol remembered landing at the
airport before pilot training.
"Surprisingly, taxiing was the most stressful part of
the day for the first officer," said Gongol. "She had
never taxied a 737 before and the ATC had no idea that
the pilot was the reason for the emergency. We had to
make a quick decision that her switching to the pilot's
seat and taxiing the aircraft without the training was
necessary to save the captain's life."
the air stairs went down and the aircraft was shut down,
Gongol and the first officer talked through the
decisions they had just made. Gongol assured the first
officer that every decision she made would be backed up
by him; he would have taken the exact same actions had
he been in her place.
The captain of the aircraft is recovering well and
contacted Gongol directly to thank him. The crew of the
aircraft, the two nurses who provided first aid for the
captain and the first officer have all been in contact
with Gongol; an emergency has brought together several
strangers as friends.
saw nothing but the finest professionalism under
pressure out of the flight attendants, the nurses and
the first officer," said Gongol. "Everyone aboard the
aircraft remained calm, there is no doubt in my mind
this contributed above all else to our successful
outcome. In my opinion any military pilot would have
done the exact same thing I did."
Gongol acted in an emergency situation, realized the
role that would be best for him to play and while he
was not necessarily the direct savior to more than
150 souls on board, his actions contributed to a
safe ending to the flight. His actions, according to
him, do not make him a hero. However, they surely
place him one step above a noble thinker.