A passenger with “no idea how to fly a plane” has successfully landed a US aircraft with the help of air traffic controllers, after his pilot suffered a medical emergency mid-flight.
The quick-thinking man radioed an urgent plea for help on Tuesday when the pilot of a small plane suddenly fell ill off Florida’s Atlantic coast.
The worried passenger, who remains unnamed, followed the guidance of air traffic controllers for nearly 10 minutes, and was able to make a near-perfect landing of the Cessna Caravan aircraft at Boca Raton airport in Florida.
“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the passenger is heard telling aircraft control in a recording of the incident.
“My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” he said.
An air traffic controller in Fort Pierce responded to his plea, asking what the plane’s position was.
“I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea,” he said.
The controller, calmly, told the passenger to “maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound.”
“We’re trying to locate you,” air traffic control said.
The man waited four minutes as the plane flew over Florida, before the controller was able to locate the aircraft on their radar.
The Cessna aircraft has twin controls, which enabled the man to control the plane from the passenger seat.
Air traffic control instructed the passenger to find the right buttons to press in the cockpit and which radio frequency to use, as the man’s voice seemed to fade.
Controllers asked for the passenger’s mobile number so that controllers at the nearby Palm Beach International Airport could communicate with him more clearly.
Air traffic controller Robert Morgan, who took charge from then, talked the passenger and the plane down safely.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane. I just had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and just tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land. It felt really good to help someone,” Mr Morgan told WPBF.
To make the situation even dicier, Mr Morgan had never flown the same model of plan – so used a picture of the cockpit to guide the unwitting passenger.
“I said, ‘All right, we are going to get you to a runway, what do you see now?’ He said he was just passing the shoreline near Boca,” Mr Morgan said.
“Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m on the ground, how do I turn this thing off?’.”
A local air training instructor, Tomas Bueno, was impressed by the efforts of both men.
“It’s a perfect landing. It’s something that I couldn’t have even done better,” he said.
“Most people probably would not have been able to handle it the way this particular person did it.”
The US Federal Aviation Administration confirmed in a statement the pilot and passenger were the only two people on board the aircraft. The agency is investigating the situation.
“Kudos to the new pilot,” one controller told the man after the plane wheeled down on the tarmac.