A pilot thought his instructor was ‘pretending to nap’ but the man had actually died inflight

  • A flying instructor died during a private flight last year, according to a new safety report.
  • The pilot thought his instructor was “just pretending to take a nap,” before realizing he was dead.
  • A UK aviation body found three instances of pilots dying of a heart attack mid-flight since 2005.

A flight instructor accompanying a pilot on a private flight in England last year suffered cardiac arrest and died shortly after takeoff — but the pilot thought his fellow flier was “just pretending to take a nap” and didn’t realize the truth until after landing on the runway.

A June 2022 flight above Blackpool Airport in Lancashire turned tragic when one of the plane’s only two crew members, a longtime flying instructor, 57, died inflight, slumping on the pilot’s shoulder after a cardiac incident, according to a newly-released safety report.

The pilot that day had originally planned to fly from Blackpool Airport to another airfield, according to the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch report, but crosswinds at the time were above the pilot’s comfortable limit for flying alone, so he asked an instructor to accompany him for a single circuit. There were no passengers onboard the four-person Piper PA-28.

Pre-flight, the pilot said he and the instructor were chatting normally; the last words he remembered the instructor saying were: “Looks good, there is nothing behind you,” according to the report. 

Shortly after takeoff, however, the pilot said the instructor’s head rolled back. The pilot knew the instructor well and thought he was simply “pretending to take a nap,” not realizing what had occurred, the report said.

The pilot continued to fly the circuit, but soon after, the instructor slumped over with his head resting on the pilot’s shoulder, according to the incident report; the pilot still believed the instructor to be kidding and continued to fly as normal.

After the pilot safely landed, he said he realized the instructor’s weight was still resting on his shoulder. As he failed to garner a response from the instructor, the pilot finally realized something was wrong, according to the report. 

Fire crew and air ambulance medical crew promptly arrived and tried to revive the instructor, but he remained unresponsive and paramedics were unable to save him.

Other people who spoke to the instructor the morning of the flight said he was acting his “normal, cheerful” self and offered no indications of feeling unwell, according to the report. 

A UK Civil Aviation Authority medical department review found the pilot, who had logged more than 8,800 flying hours, had a medical history of hypertensive disease and likely suffered cardiac arrest as the aircraft took off. 

The Civil Aviation Authority found three previous instances of a pilot suffering a heart attack inflight since 2005, according to the accidents report. In all 3 incidents, the co-pilot was able to land the plan safely.