In a miraculous feat right off the pages of a Hollywood script, a passenger with no flying experience successfully landed a private plane on Tuesday after his pilot had fallen unconscious.
The unnamed passenger was flying aboard a Cessna 208 Caravan on his way home from the Bahamas to see his pregnant wife in Florida when the emergency situation unfolded.
While flying over the Florida coastline about 70 miles north of his destination, the passenger can be heard in an audio recording telling Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Fort Pierce, “I’ve got a situation here.”
“My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” he advised the controller.
ATC replied, “Roger. What’s your position?”
The passenger said, “I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.”
From that point on, a race to locate the plane’s position and find someone who could talk the passenger down commenced.
The Daily Mail reported the passenger somehow remained calm during the life-threatening episode and guided the plane to the runway like an experienced pilot even though he had never sat in a cockpit of any kind.
This is brand new video (courtesy of Jeff Chandler) of a passenger landing a plane today at PBIA.
His pilot had passed out, and the passenger with zero flight experience was forced to land the plane.
— Ari Hait (@wpbf_ari) May 11, 2022
The Cessna took off from Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in Marsh Harbor and was flown by a single pilot, which is not uncommon for a privately-owned aircraft like the 208 Caravan, an aviation expert told CNN.
An investigation is underway and no details have been released as to the condition of the pilot, other than a statement from the FAA saying he suffered a “‘possible medical issue.”
Audio revealed that about four minutes passed while the controller figured out who to call and what to do as the passenger-now-pilot remained incredibly calm, the Mail reported.
“Have you guys located me yet?” he asked ATC after some time.
“I can’t even get my nav screen to turn on. It has all the information on it. You guys have any ideas on that?”
The plane was finally located over the coast near Boca Raton and was handed over to Palm Beach Airport ATC which proceeded to guide him down.
ABC News reported the controller working at the time is an FAA-certified flight instructor with experience on Cessna aircraft and a 20-year veteran air traffic controller. He printed off a layout of the Cessna 208 Caravan cockpit controls to help in guiding the passenger through the many steps required to land the plane.
“I just feel like it was probably meant to happen,” Robert Morgan said, noting he was outside reading a book on his break when the call came in.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane. I just had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land.”
“Before I knew it, he was like, ”I’m on the ground. How do I turn this thing off?'” Morgan recalled.
Morgan reportedly ran out to the tarmac and hugged the cool-headed passenger.
“It felt really good to help somebody, and he told me that he was going to go home tonight to see his pregnant wife,” he said.
Another controller marveled at what had happened, radioing to another pilot at the airport, “You just witnessed a couple passengers land that plane.”
“Did you say the passengers landed the plane? the pilot asked.
‘That’s correct,” ATC responded.
“Oh, my gosh. Great job!”
(Image/Audio: The Daily Mail/ATC)
Justin Dalmolin, a JetBlue pilot, was told to delay his take-off as the Cessna made its approach to Palm Beach Airport.
“The level of difficulty that this person had to deal with in terms of having zero flight time to fly and land a single-engine turbine aircraft is absolutely incredible,” said Dalmolin.
He told ABC 25, “The incredible part is not just flying the aircraft but obviously the most difficult thing which is configuring the aircraft for approach and landing. And then landing it, and that to me, for a zero time pilot.”
“I remember my first days when I first started flight training, I was white-knuckled and sweating for my first ten hours of training,” he recalled.
Dalmolin said the passenger was very lucky it was a clear day. The situation, he said, would have been far more difficult had it unfolded during foggy conditions or at night.
“You know it’s nothing short of a miracle and I’m really glad for them and their families they had such a great outcome,” said Dalmolin.
Aviation expert John Nance told the outlet the Cessna is a complex plane, and to land one without any experience is an incredible triumph.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of one of these being landed by somebody that has no aeronautical experience,” Nance said.
“The person on the airplane who had no aeronautical experience listened very carefully and obviously followed instructions with great calm,” he continued. “That’s what made the difference.”
The Daily Mail provided an excerpt from the dialogue between the passenger and ATC, as seen below:
Passenger: I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane but I am…
ATC: What’s your position?
Passenger: I have no idea. I see the coast of Florida in front of me and I have no idea.
ATC: Do you know how to operate the transponder 7700?
Passenger: Stand by, let me see. Repeat that frequency default.
ATC: Disable and put 7700 into your transponder.
Passenger: 7700, yes, yes.
ATC: Can you say again what the situation is?
Passenger: Pilot is incoherent.
ATC: That came in a little broken. What was the situation with the pilot?
Passenger: He is incoherent. He is out.
ATC: Roger. Try to hold the wings level and see if you can start descending for me. Push forward on the controls and descend at a very slow rate.
Passenger: Yea, they are descending right now at 550 feet a minute, passing 86/40.
ATC: Continue the descent and try to level off at 5,000 feet.
Passenger: 10/4 What heading do I need to be at? Give me a… heading because I have no control. (Muffled…)
ATC: Maintain length level and just try to follow the coast either north or southbound. We’re trying to locate you.
Passenger: 10/4. Passing 8600.
ATC: If able, hit the ivent button on the trans monitor.
Passenger: Which one is it?
ATC: On the trans monitor there is a button that says ivent. Hit the ivent button for me.
Passenger: I, the I what?
Passenger: I’m looking for it; can’t find it.
ATC: If able, I have a frequency for you to put into your radio. It’s 1, 32.15 132 15 – that’s Palm Beach approach. They may have a better idea of where you’re at.
ATC: Did you copy the frequency? 1, 32.15
ATC: No problem. Just continue to stay wings I will maintain 5,000 and follow the coast and we’re gonna try to find you here on the radar.
Passenger: Okay. 10/4.
Passenger: You guys located me yet? I can’t even get my screen to turn on. It has all the information on it. Any ideas on that?
ATC: Palm Beach, is… he’s… telling me you’re about 20 miles east of Boca Raton. Just continue northbound over the beach and we’ll try to get you some more further instructions. Continue to maintain 5,000 northbound over the beach.
Passenger: So, I’ve got the coast in my headlights. I’m at 72/80. Do I need to get lower?
ATC: You’re at 72/80 for your altitude?
Passenger: Yea, (Muffled)
ATC: Just continue the slow descent until you get to 5,000 feet and continue northbound over the beach and we’ll get you further instructions and get you toward an airport.
Passenger: So, northbound over the beach?
ATC: Do you have a cellphone with you?
Passenger: Yes, I do.
ATC: Do you have a cellphone number? Give me the phone number and we’ll try to get you in touch with someone that can help you.
ATC: Are you still with me?
Passenger: **** ATC:
Say it again.
ATC: I hear ***-****. What’s the area code?
Passenger: *** ATC: I heard the number ***-****. What’s the area code for it?
ATC: You still with me? Fort Pierce Tower.
Passenger: I’m going off the coast, it looks like a little bit southwest.
ATC: I’m having trouble hearing you. I heard you said something about southwest. Can you say again your cellphone number?
Passenger: (Muffled) I have no idea how to stop the airplane. I don’t know how to do anything.
ATC: Standby I’ve got some emergency situation going on. If you can hear me I have a phone number for you; ***-***-****. ***-***-****. If you receive that, give that phone number a call on your cellphone, if able.
ATC: Did you hear the transmission? Can you hear me?
Passenger: Loud and clear?
ATC: Did you hear the phone number I gave you? It’s ***-***-****. ***-***-****. Sir, if you heard the phone number, if you can give that a call, they can get you in touch with somebody that can help you maneuver that plane. Continue following the coast Can you confirm that you got that phone number? If you can, on your cellphone, give that phone number a call. They’re gonna get you in touch with somebody that can help you maneuver that plane.
ATC: While you’re making that call, just remain on the frequency and we’re gonna try and get you some more help. Is the pilot unconscious?
ATC: Can you tell me how many personnel are on the plane with you?
Passenger: I don’t know. (Muffled)
ATC: Palm Beach approach is gonna talk to you. They’re gonna direct you to the Palm Beach Airport. You should hear them on this frequency momentarily.
(Other people butt in. Long silence)
(More traffic from other flights. Long silence)
ATC: This is Fort Pierce tower – are you on the frequency?
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