Sunday, May 15

Passenger Lands Plane After Pilot Becomes Unresponsive

A passenger aboard a plane flying above Florida achieved a feat few before them have. The pilot flying the aircraft had a medical emergency, but with the help of Air Traffic Control, a passenger with no flying experience aced a landing better than some experienced pilots do.

On Tuesday morning, Cessna 208 Caravan registration N333LD departed from Leonard Thompson Airport in Great Abaco Island, Bahamas. The aircraft, operated by Beach Amphibian LLC, was bound for Florida’s Treasure Coast International Airport. According to Flight Aware, it’s a flight that usually takes just over an hour, but this time the flight would encounter an emergency when the pilot became incapacitated.

As reported by WPBF News, during the flight, a passenger called out to Air Traffic Control, telling the controller on the other line that the pilot was incoherent and that they had no idea how to fly the plane. But it was now up to the two passengers aboard the aircraft to land it.

The Cessna Caravan that the passenger now controlled is a turboprop known for its utility and longevity. However, this aircraft isn’t like the Cessna 172s or 150s that you’d normally find at a flight school. As a pilot interviewed by WPBF noted, a Caravan is sophisticated for someone without any hours, and the passenger had to figure out how to get it down safely.

Thankfully, the determined passenger had an excellent air traffic controller on the other line, Treasure Coast Airport controller Robert Morgan. As CNN Travel reports, Morgan is a certified flight instructor. He didn’t have experience with a Caravan, but he pulled up a picture of a Caravan’s instrument panel and began giving the passenger instructions. Together, they would keep the plane in the sky, find the airport, and guide the Caravan to a safe landing.

Early on, Morgan asked the passenger for the plane’s position, but the passenger didn’t know: “I have no idea. I see the coast of Florida in front of me and I have no idea.”

In ATC transcripts obtained by aviation blog Kathryn’s Report, the passenger does appear to have some aviation knowledge and was able to set the transponder to 7700 (indicating an emergency). CNN Travel notes that while the passenger had never flown, they had watched pilots fly before.

Morgan instructed the passenger to keep the aircraft flying with its wings level and in a slow descent: “Try to hold the wings level and see if you can start descending for me. Push forward on the controls and descend at a very slow rate.”

Example photo of a Cessna 208.

Example photo of a Cessna 208.
Photo: Textron Aviation

The tower hadn’t yet located the plane on radar, so Morgan also instructed the passenger to follow the coast. The aircraft followed the coast northbound while Morgan tried to locate it. The passenger at the controls wasn’t able to get the aircraft’s navigation screen on.

Morgan contacted the controllers at Palm Beach International Airport, who were able to spot the plane about 20 miles east of Boca Raton. Armed with that information, Morgan guided the passenger towards Palm Beach. When the aircraft was about eight miles out, Morgan handed the passenger off to ATC at Palm Beach.

With the help of Palm Beach’s ATC, the passenger configured the aircraft for landing and made a safe touchdown. Palm Beach’s controller announced over the airwaves that the plane that just landed on the runway was commanded by a passenger.

Pilots and aviation experts interviewed by WPBF commended the passenger for amazing airmanship. With ATC help, a passenger with zero hours of flight time landed a turboprop about as well with someone with far more experience. One expert said that they hadn’t seen a Caravan landed by someone without flying experience. And Morgan got to meet and hug his impromptu student.

The FAA is investigating the incident and the condition of the pilot has not been released at this time.

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