A passenger with no flying experience safely landed a Cessna Caravan in Florida on Tuesday with the help of air traffic controllers, after the pilot of the aircraft fell ill.
The utility aircraft, with two people on board, had taken off from Marsh Harbour International Airport in the Bahamas, on its way to Fort Pierce in Florida.
According to wpbf.com, which sited the Federal Aviation Administration, the incident occurred at around 12:30pm, about one hour into the flight.
“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the male passenger said over the radio, according to audio on LiveATC.net, a website that records air traffic controller communications.
“My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
An air traffic controller based in Fort Pierce asked the passenger if he knew the position of the single-engine Cessna, and he responded: “I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea.”
As the air traffic controllers instructed the passenger to divert to West Palm Beach, a city in South Florida, they calmly said “maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound”.
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
It took minutes to locate the aircraft, and the passenger said over the radio that he was unable to get his navigation screen to turn on. “It has all the information on it. You guys have any ideas on that?” he said.
The controllers continued to tell the passenger how to use the controls, descend to 5,000 feet and level off before finally locating the Cessna, which was heading north over Boca Raton. It took about four minutes for the controllers to find the aircraft.
Then, the passenger achieved an almost perfect aircraft landing, with the help of air traffic controller Robert Morgan.
Morgan, who is a 20-year veteran in the aviation industry, told wpbf.com that he believed he was in the right place at the right time.
“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,” he said.
Aviation analyst and pilot John Nance said this is the first time he has seen a passenger land an aircraft as “large and as complicated” as the Cessna Caravan.
“The person on the airplane who had no aeronautical experience listened very carefully and obviously followed instructions with great calm,” Nance said. “That’s what made the difference.”
According to Palm Beach Country Fire Rescue, the pilot was taken to hospital as soon as the aircraft landed.
The FAA is investigating the incident, and the identities of both the passenger and pilot have not been disclosed.