Here’s a nightmare scenario: You are in a plane with another fellow passenger and only one pilot.
However, you find your pilot slumped over the flight controls — what do you do?
For one passenger aboard a single-engine Cessna 208 heading from the Bahamas to Florida on Wednesday (May 11), he had to take matters into his own hands — quite literally — and safely landed the plane at Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA), according to a post by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
“My pilot has gone incoherent, and I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger told air traffic control at Fort Pierce, Florida in an audio archive on LiveATC.net. “I’ve got a serious situation here.”
He had just pulled the aircraft out of a nosedive after his pilot was found slumped against the controls because of a medical issue, the FAA stated on their blog post.
The passenger then informed the air traffic control tower that he had “no idea” where his location was.
“I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea,” the passenger said.
The controller at the time Christopher Flores and operational supervisor Justin Boyle then managed to instruct the passenger on how to descend while maintaining a straight path as they attempted to locate the aircraft.
“Maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound,” Flores calmly advised on the radio.
Flores also tried to get the passenger to change frequencies to Palm Beach Tower’s, but the passenger did not know how to.
Failing that, Flores then gave the passenger a mobile phone number to contact them for easier communication.
When that too didn’t work out, Flores and Palm Beach air traffic control instead opted to use the emergency frequency to maintain contact with the passenger.
Once PBIA air traffic controller Robert Morgan — a flight instructor with experience with Cessna aircrafts — took over communications and the passenger was given clear and short directions, said the FAA.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane,” Morgan told news station West Palm Beach News (WPBF). “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.”
The air traffic control team at PBIA also stepped in to suspend departures and delay arrivals while the runway was cleared to prepare for the Cessna’s landing.
The air traffic manager even printed a picture of the Cessna 208’s cockpit as reference for Morgan.
“I felt like I was in a movie,” Morgan said. “Everybody … came out of the offices to assist in any kind of way.”
“Before I knew it, [the passenger] said ‘I’m on the ground, how do I turn this thing off?'” Said Morgan as he retold the landing to WPBF.
The aircraft successfully landed at 4.37pm local time.
SUSTO NO AR! Um passageiro sem experiência de voo conseguiu nesta terça-feira (10) pousar uma aeronave Cessna 208 no aeroporto de Palm Beach, na Flórida, após o piloto ficar sem condições de conduzir o avião. pic.twitter.com/1eA3Co4pQr
— O Tempo (@otempo) May 11, 2022
Morgan then told the WPBF he rushed out to meet the passenger, hugging him on the tarmac.
“He told me that he was going to go home tonight to see his pregnant wife,” Morgan added. “It felt really good to help somebody.”
After the emergency landing, one patient was transported to a hospital, the Palm Beach County Fire Rescue told TV network CBS.
FAA said the passengers were not injured. The names of the two passengers and the pilot were not released.
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