A passenger with no flying experience landed a private plane after the pilot was incapacitated

The pilot was incapacitated due to what may have been a medical issue.
Ameya Paleja
A Cessna Caravan single engine aircraftTarcisio Schnaider/ iStock

In what might seem like a scene from a thriller Hollywood movie, a passenger with no flying experience safely landed a private plane at Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA) in Florida on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported.

All the passenger had was a voice on the radio to guide them down.

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Cessna Caravan Aircraft

The passenger was onboard a Cessna Caravan, a single-engined turboprop aircraft with a crew capacity of one. Capable of a maximum speed of 186 knots, it has a service ceiling of 25,000 feet (7,620 m) and needs a landing distance of 2,500 feet (762 m). 

The aircraft has a fixed tricycle landing gear and a range of 325 nautical miles (601 km), used as a short-haul regional airliner. The pilot told the passengers that he wasn't feeling well and soon fell against the controls, putting the aircraft into a nosedive, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said in its blog post

The following sequence of events has been updated with details of the incident provided by the FAA and transcripts of the conversations between the passenger and the air traffic controller, provided by LiveATC.net 

The Sequence of Events

With no flying experience, the passengers swung into action and pulled the aircraft out of the nosedive. They then contacted the ATC at Fort Pierce Tower at Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce, Florida. After receiving the distress call from the passenger, a man, air traffic controller, Christopher Flores responded, "Roger. What’s your position?" 

"I have no idea," WPBF reported the passenger said. "I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea."

Flores with operational supervisor, Justin Boyle, told the passenger to fly straight ahead and begin a gradual descent to help them locate the aircraft, the FAA post said. 

"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. Try to follow the coast either north or southbound. We're trying to locate you," the controller responded. 

Four minutes after this exchange, the passenger spoke again, "Have you guys located me yet? I can’t even get my nav screen to turn on. It has all the information on it. You guys have any ideas on that?"

Joshua Summers, the operational supervisor at PBIA also chimed in and the controllers eventually located the plane flying off the coast of Boca Raton. Flores asked the passengers to change their frequency to that of PBIA but since the passenger did not know how it could be done, emergency radio frequencies were used to contact the aircraft. 

Lead traffic controller at PBIA summoned controller Robert Morgan, a certified flight instructor with experience flying Cessna aircraft, from his break, who then gave the passenger detailed instructions to land the aircraft. 

The team at Palm Beach Tower swung into action clearing the runway, holding aircraft from departures, dispatched emergency providers, while air traffic manager, Ryan Warren even printed a photograph of the Cessna Carvan's cockpit for Morgan to refer to while guiding the passenger towards his landing attempt.

PBIA was chosen as the landing site since it had a longer runway, was less congested, and had adequate radio coverage, the post said. Morgan talked the passenger through various aspects of a plane landing, turns, flap settings, and trim to help the aircraft land. When the aircraft was over the runway, Morgan radioed how to keep the nose off the ground, until the aircraft had touched down and how to brake the plane. 

Controller Morgan, Manager Warren and passenger after the landing
L to R : Air traffic manager Ryan Warren, Controller Robert Morgan and the passenger after the Cessna landed safely. Image credit: FAA/ Medium


Once the aircraft was safely on the ground, the tower operator was heard telling other pilots, "You just witnessed a couple of passengers land that plane."

"Did you say the passengers landed the airplane?" asked a pilot over the radio. "Oh, my God. Great job."

The name of the passenger has not been released. In a statement to CNN, the Federal Aviation Administration stated the pilot had a "possible medical issue." Details of his condition have also not been released.

The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating the incident.

Update: 12th May 03:44 am ET: Post updated to include names of air traffic controllers, supervisors and traffic managers involved in the successful landing, as released by the FAA. 

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