“I’ve got a serious situation here.”
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Darren Harrison of Lakeland, Florida was returning from a fishing trip in the Bahamas when he experienced every airline passenger’s worst nightmare.
The pilot of the Cessna Caravan they were flying in became incoherent and slumped over the controls, unconscious.
According to the FAA, the pilot “fell against the controls, putting the aircraft into a nosedive and sharp turn.” Darren was one of just two passengers on board, and neither of them had a single minute of flight experience between them.
With just seconds to react, Darren leaped forward and grabbed control of the yoke, correcting the nosedive. Once the plane was flying straight again, he picked up the radio and calmly told air traffic control that he needed help, and fast.
“My pilot has gone incoherent,” he said gravely. “I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
“I have no idea how to fly the airplane.” Pilot of small plane passes out while flying off the coast of Florida. Passenger, who had never piloted a plane before, successfully lands it after air traffic controller Robert Morgan talks him through the procedure. pic.twitter.com/vDxWSgsPvz— Mike Sington (@MikeSington) May 11, 2022
Controller Chip Flores was the first to help. He asked for coordinates, but Darren wasn’t much help.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea.”
Chip directed the passenger to keep his wings level and follow the Florida coastline while they worked to locate the plane on radar maps. Meanwhile, controller Robert Morgan was called in from his lunch break to take over. Robert has a pilot’s license, and even though he’d never flown a Cessna Caravan, he was their best bet for landing the plane safely.
After he was briefed on the situation, Robert printed out a picture of the plane’s cockpit to help describe what to do to Darren.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane,” he said. “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.”
Thankfully, Darren was up to the task! He somehow managed to keep his cool while Robert talked him through adjusting the plane’s speed and lowering the altitude until hey touched down safely at Palm Beach International Airport. The FAA called the landing a “team miracle!”
As soon as Darren got off the plane, Robert rushed out of the tower to greet him. The men shared a long hug, both shaking from the adrenaline and pressure of their ordeal. Later, controller Chip recalled the dramatic scene as an “all hands on deck” situation where “every hand stepped up.”
“When any pilot is having a major problem, I am the voice that reaches out into that darkness and says ‘everything is going to be okay, I am going to help you.’ That is the job. It’s OUR job,” he wrote.
Wow, that is both terrifying and inspiring! The air traffic controllers are absolute superstars in our book, and Darren is exactly the sort of guy we want around in an emergency. Kudos all around.
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