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Passenger with ‘no idea how to fly’ takes over plane from stricken pilot
11 May 2022, 19:54
Flight controllers at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida talked the rookie down.
A passenger with no flying experience radioed an urgent plea for help when the pilot of a small plane suddenly fell ill off Florida’s Atlantic coast, and landed the plane safely with the help of air traffic controllers.
“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the man said on Tuesday afternoon, according to audio on LiveATC.net, a website that broadcasts and archives air traffic controller communications.
“My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
An air traffic controller in Fort Pierce responded, asking if he knew the position of the single-engine Cessna 280.
“I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea,” the passenger said.
According to Flight Aware, the plane had taken off earlier from Marsh Harbour International Airport in the Bahamas.
As the plane flew over Florida, the controller, speaking calmly, told the passenger to “maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound”.
Minutes passed before controllers were able to locate the plane, which was heading north over Boca Raton.
Then the man’s voice seemed to fade, so the controller in Fort Pierce asked for the passenger’s mobile phone number to enable controllers at Palm Beach International Airport to communicate with him more clearly.
Air traffic controller Robert Morgan, a 20-year veteran, took over at that point, talking the passenger down to a safe landing.
“Kudos to the new pilot,” one controller told him after the plane smoothly wheeled down the tarmac.
Mr Morgan told television station WPBF he felt like he was in the right place at the right time.
He said: “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.”
Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt confirmed that the pilot and passenger were the only two people aboard. The agency is investigating.
There was no immediate word on the condition of the pilot and authorities did not release the pair’s identities.