Flight attendants were reportedly in tears when a pilot had a suspected heart attack while behind the controls of an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 aircraft with 316 passengers on board last night.
A doctor who was a passenger on the flight from Los Angeles to Auckland treated the pilot as the plane turned back to LA.
"The flight was being operated by three pilots so the flight deck remained fully staffed at all times,'' an Air New Zealand spokeswoman said.
Herald Online readers wrote in to tell of what they had heard about the ordeal.
"My parents (who were on the flight) noticed that the flight attendants looked stressed on the flight, apparently some were crying,'' said Jordon Lee.
"However, Air New Zealand have been fantastic in the way it was all handled.
Mum and dad were provided with meal vouchers, accommodation and if they present receipts for clothing to the airline, they will reimburse. Great Kiwi hospitality, professional throughout the ordeal!!''
Several other readers who knew people on the flight said they had been told the pilot had a heart attack.
Peter Woodward drove to Auckland from Rotorua to meet his wife Michelle Pleydell when the plane was originally due to land at 5.45am yesterday.
"She said all that they were told was that there was a medical emergency on board and that they'd be returning to LA. They weren't told it was the pilot.
"She couldn't talk very long because apparently most of the flight was trying to get hold of the public telephone to ring home and let people know.''
Mr Woodward told APNZ he would have to spend another night in a hotel now.
The Air New Zealand spokeswoman said it was not standard practice to tell passengers only afterwards if a pilot was unwell.
'These situations aren't standard. I understand that the passengers were told that there was a medical emergency and that the aircraft was returning to LA.''
The pilot was under observation in an LA hospital.
The flight had since departed LA and was due to land in Auckland at 5.30am this morning.