An ordinary passenger with no previous experience flying planes radioed an urgent plea for help when the pilot of a small aircraft suddenly fell ill off Florida’s Atlantic coast — and was able to land the plane safely with the help of air traffic control.
Air traffic control talks Untrained passenger through landing plane after pilot falls ill
A passenger with no flying experience landed a plane in Florida after the pilot became incapacitated. In an audio recording from the flight, the passenger, Darren Harrison, can be heard telling air traffic control a "serious situation" was unfolding. An air traffic controller – who also teaches new pilots – helped guide the man down to Palm Beach International Airport just after noon on Tuesday. The two later met on the tarmac for a hug, according to BBC reports.
20-year veteran of air traffic control Talked passenger through landing
According to a report by yahoo!news, The nine-seater Cessna 208 Caravan was on the way back from The Bahamas just before noon when the pilot told his passengers he wasn’t feeling well. He fell against the controls, putting the aircraft into a nosedive and sharp turn, according to the FAA.
Instead of panicking at 10,000 feet, one of the passengers, Darren Harrison, grabbed the controls and called into Fort Pierce Air Traffic Control as the plane was about 30 miles (48 km) offshore.
"I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane but I am maintaining (at) 9,100 (feet)," the passenger told Fort Pierce air traffic control around 11:21 a.m.
After locating the plane, PBIA air traffic controller Robert Morgan was in the Harrison‘s ear and directing him to the ground. A 20-year veteran of air traffic control and a flight instructor himself, Morgan was reportedly called in from his lunch break to help the passenger make sense of the plane’s controls.
Passenger “felt like I was in a movie”: air traffic controller helps passenger land plane in Florida
“We’ve never had anything like that…I felt like I was in a movie,” Morgan told the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). “Everybody wanted to participate, and came out of the offices to assist in any kind of way.”
Morgan said his first instructions were for the passenger to make a slow turn to the north, noting that the shoreline is going to be on the right.
"He (the passenger) lined himself up with the runway without too much help on my part," Morgan said, adding that with the help of a fellow passenger, he found the speed indicator.
"We need to slow you down some," Morgan said but he had never flown the plane. He was fairly certain that the brakes were on top of the rudder pedal. He was right.
Morgan saw the altitude drop from 1,000 feet to 600 feet and then to 300 feet. He got nervous when the plane disappeared off radar. He remembers telling the passenger that the runway was going to look bigger.
"Before I knew it, he was on the ground."
Morgan and the passenger successfully touched the plane down at PBIA at 12:37 p.m.
An on-board conversation between Mr Harrison and air traffic control caught the drama:
HARRISON: "I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the aeroplane."
CONTROL: "ATC: 333 Lima Delta, Roger, what’s your position?"
HARRISON: "I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me but I have no idea."
CONTROL: "Maintain wings level and just try to follow the coast, either northbound or southbound. We’re trying to locate you."
Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller at Palm Beach International Airport, was on his break when a colleague came to alert him to the situation.
A long-time flight instructor with more than 20 years’ experience in air traffic control, Mr Morgan had never flown the specific model – a single-engine Cessna 208 – but was able to use a map of the aircraft’s cockpit to give instructions to the flier.
"I knew the plane was flying like any other plane. I just knew I had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land," Mr Morgan told WPBF-TV.
In the recording, Mr Morgan is heard teaching the man to "push forward on the controls and descend at a very slow rate" as he approaches for landing.
After the plane landed, Mr Morgan can be heard in the recording praising the heroic passenger to other pilots on the tarmac.
"Did you say the passengers landed the airplane?" the pilot responded. "Oh, my God. Great job."
The passengers had planned to land at Boca Raton in Florida, but Mr Morgan instead guided Mr Harrison to Palm Beach airport because it had a longer runway, was less congested, and had much-needed radio coverage, the FAA said.
Under Mr Morgan’s tutelage, Mr Harrison flew the plane into its final approach, successfully landing the aircraft at 16:37 local time. Neither passenger had any injuries. The nature of the medical emergency has not been revealed, but the pilot is being treated in hospital.
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Some people undergo amazing transformations in emergencies: They can make a solid plan and tell everyone what to do in calm voice. The rest of us freak out, yell and drop things. The good news is, the rest of us can learn the ability to stay calm in an emergency. Here are some tips from survival and medical experts.