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Safe landing after pilot dies en route

A Continental plane travelling from Brussels to New York landed safely at Newark airport Thursday after the pilot died during the flight, the airline said.

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The Boeing 777 flight, carrying 247 passengers, made an emergency landing guided by two co-pilots around midday 1600 GMT at the New Jersey airport, which is one of the three main airports serving New York City.

“The captain of Continental flight 61, which was en route from Brussels to New York, died on flight apparently of natural causes,” the airline said in a statement. “The fight continued safely with two pilots at the controls.”

FAA spokesman Jim Peters told NY1 television that other planes were taken out of the landing queue so the aircraft would have a clear descent into Newark airport.

Asked if passengers had been alerted to the emergency, Peters said, “the attention of the flight crew was on maintaining control of the aircraft.”

The pilot, Continental said, was 61 years old, based in Newark and had worked for the airline for 21 years.

Continental Airlines, the world’s fifth largest airline, flies daily from Brussels to New York-Newark and offers connections to more than 230 destinations across the United States, Canada, Latin and South America, and the Caribbean.

Airlines have lost pilots in flight before. In January 2007, a Continental flight from Texas to a Mexican vacation spot made an emergency landing after the pilot fell ill. The co-pilot safely landed the plane carrying 210 passengers and the pilot died on the ground.

In May 2000, Taiwanese airline China Airlines was forced to turn back shortly after take off when the pilot suffered a heart attack. The co-pilot returned the plane to the airport and the pilot died soon after arriving at a hospital.

In March 1997, a Gulf Air Airbus A-320 skidded at Abu Dhabi airport after a pilot had a heart attack right at take-off.

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