Air traffic controller: Helping passenger land plane felt like I was in a movie

12 May 2022, 12:44

A passenger with no flying experience radioed an urgent plea for help when the pilot of a small plane fell ill off Florida’s Atlantic coast (WPTV via AP)
Passenger Lands Plane. Picture: PA

Controllers guided a passenger to a safe landing at Palm Beach International Airport, where a controller told him ‘Kudos to the new pilot’.

An air traffic controller who helped a passenger with no flying experience land a plane when the pilot suddenly fell ill has said it felt like he was “in a movie”.

The passenger radioed an urgent plea for help off Florida’s Atlantic coast on Tuesday and was able to land the plane safely with the help of Robert Morgan.

The air traffic controller, who has 20 years’ experience, said in a video released by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that he was just doing his job, but at a higher level than he thought he would have to do it.

“We’ve never had anything like that,” Mr Morgan said. “I felt like I was in a movie.”

According to Flight Aware, the plane had taken off from Marsh Harbour International Airport in the Bahamas.

The aircraft was occupied by the pilot and two passengers, according to an FAA news release. Officials have not identified any of them.

Rescue workers assisted the original pilot, officials added. Neither passenger had any injuries. Officials did not immediately say what caused the pilot to fall ill.

“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the man who landed the plane said, 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 208.

“I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I have no idea,” the passenger said.

As the plane flew over Florida, controller Christopher Flores, speaking very calmly, told the passenger to “maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound”.

Twin controls enable a Cessna 208 to be steered from the passenger seat.

Minutes passed before controllers were able to locate the plane, which by then 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 number to enable controllers at Palm Beach International Airport to communicate with him more clearly.

Mr Morgan took over at that point, talking the passenger down to a safe landing.

Mr Morgan is a certified flight instructor with experience piloting Cessna aircraft, the FAA said.

“Kudos to the new pilot,” one controller told him after the plane smoothly wheeled down the tarmac.

By Press Association

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