Updated at the bottom with the pilot okay: The airline tells us he fainted twice during the flight. First posted at 7 a.m.

A pilot on an Alaska Airlines flight that departed from LAX last night became unconscious, forcing the first officer to take the reins and land the plane safely in Portland, the carrier stated.

It's not clear what caused the pilot to pass out. Alaska Airlines said “medical personnel are looking after our crew member.”

Flight 473 touched down …

… shortly after 9 last night, with Alaska saying ” … the flight has landed safely at PDX … “

The CBS News affiliate in Portland reported that the plane had 116 passengers and 5 crew members on board.

The plane was headed to Seattle, Alaska Airlines stated, but had to be diverted to the nearest airport after the pilot was found unconscious.

The jetliner was reportedly flying on auto pilot when it happened.

KGW News in Portland said the pilot had been flying for Alaska for 28 years. Reports indicated that the plane had to be towed to its gate because the pilot usually directs the craft once its on the ground.

Paramedics were waiting for the jetliner when it arrived. The pilot's condition was unknown.

In December we reported that the mysterious death of a veteran Alaska pilot whose body was found near the 5 freeway in Burbank during a layover was the result of a heart attack.

[Update at 3 p.m.]: We followed up this afternoon with Alaska Airlines' spokesman Paul McElroy, who told us the pilot fainted twice while the plane was a cruising altitude and on auto pilot.

The first time, he said, was when the pilot got up to use the lavatory and felt dizzy

Luckily, a doctor was on-board and tended to the pilot as the plane was north of Eugene, Oregon and soon diverted to Portland.

The pilot came to but fainted a second time, McElroy said.

The man was released from the hospital today and “is feeling much better now,” he said. McElroy blamed possible food poisoning or maybe even the flu.

The first officer has 11 years experience, he said, and the situation proves why the airline puts two pilots on every flight.

Once the plane landed in Portland the first officer parked it and turned off the engines so paramedics could respond, McElroy said. As such, the jet had to be towed to its gate afterward.

Alaska spokeswoman Marianne Lindsey added that the pilot's name would not be released.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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