United Flight 1637 was returning off-duty Air Force Captain Mike Gongol, his family and 157 other souls from their Christmas vacation when disaster struck.
The Boeing 737's pilot suffered a devastating heart attack at 30,000 feet on the way from Des Moines to Denver, forcing Gongol to rush to the cockpit and help guide the plane to an emergency landing, the Daily Mail reported.
His heroic actions have gone unheralded until now, as Gongol recalls the dramatic moment he answered the chilling announcement on the December 30 flight, 'Does anyone know how to fly a plane?'
Gongol, who flies supersonic B-1B Lancer nuclear bombers out of Fort Carson, Colorado, first realized something was wrong when 30 minutes into the flight he saw the engines power down to idle.
Then the aircraft began to descend and bank steeply to the right.
'Over the public address system; a flight attendant asked if there was a doctor on board the plane,' said Gongol to the Daily Mail in his first interview since that dramatic flight, given to Air Force Space Command.
'A few more calls went out for medical professionals and the flight attendants were all hurrying to first class with their beverage carts and a first-aid kit.'
His military training told him to stay seated with his wife and daughter and remain out of the way.
Suddenly, a heart-stopping announcement came over the PA system: 'Are there any non-revenue pilots on board? Please ring your call button.'
At that gut-wrenching moment, Gongol realized the sick person was the pilot.
According to Air Force Space Command, Gongol, 'looked to his wife; as she gave him a nod, Gongol pressed his button and headed toward the flight desk.'
Walking briskly to the cockpit, Gongol saw that the pilot was desperately ill.
Gongol immediately knew he was suffering a serious cardiac event.
'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.'
Summoning all his training, Gongol decided it was best if he adopted a supportive role to the first officer and began to man the radio and troubleshoot any issues as they approached landing.
'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 impressive.'
It was then that the first officer turned to Gongol and revealed she had never landed at Omaha airport before.
However, Gongol had landed there during his training and talked her through it.
'I 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.'