TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A passenger with no flying experience made a successful landing at Florida’s Palm Beach International Airport after the pilot suffered an apparent medical emergency.
The plane, a Cessna Caravan, took off from Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in the Bahamas on Tuesday and was over the Florida coastline when the pilot became incapacitated.
The pilot told his two passengers he wasn’t feeling well before falling against the controls, putting the aircraft into a nosedive and sharp turn.
“Not only are you now fighting the airplane, but you’re fighting the weight of a human, who is not being able to help get out of its own way,” private pilot Sam Walker said during an appearance Wednesday night on “NewsNation Prime.”
“It was just spectacular. I’ve seen much worse landings, by fully certified pilots, myself included. So to watch somebody land an airplane especially of that size was really neat,” Walker added.
The passengers had no flying experience.
“What was unusual, is he’s flying in on an international flight from the Bahamas, but it does not appear he was on an instrument flight plan. Otherwise, air traffic control would have known who he was and been already speaking to him, so that’s a little bit unusual,” commercial pilot and aerospace journalist Kathleen Bangs said during an appearance Wednesday night on NewsNation’s “Banfield.”
One of the unnamed passenger took over the controls and radioed for help.
“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger said, as heard in audio captured by LiveATC.com.
“Roger. What’s your position?” Air Traffic Control responded.
“I have no idea,” the passenger said. “I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.”
The air traffic controllers told the man to keep the wings level and continue up the coast until they were able to find his plane above Boca Raton. They also asked for the passenger’s cellphone number, to better communicate while he was at the controls.
Robert Morgan, one of the air traffic controllers, was outside the tower reading a book when he was called in to assist.
Although Morgan had never flown a Cessna Caravan, he was able to guide the man to land safely by looking at a picture of the cockpit.
The aircraft touched down at approximately 12:30 p.m., the FAA confirmed.
“You just witnessed a couple passengers land that plane,” one of the controllers said over the radio.
“Passengers landed the plane?” another asked.
“That’s correct,” the controller replied. “No flying experience.”
“Oh, my gosh. Great job.”
Upon landing, the pilot was transported to a local hospital by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. Morgan said he met the passenger on the tarmac.
“It felt really good to help somebody and he told me that he couldn’t wait to get home and hug his pregnant wife,” Morgan told WPBF.
Officials at Palm Beach International Airport also commended the pilot and the controllers.
“We are incredibly proud of the heroism shown by all parties involved in yesterday’s incident ending at PBI,” said Lacy Larson, a spokesperson for the airport, in a statement shared with Nexstar. “We are grateful for the outcome and wish everyone the best.”