Air Traffic Controller and certified flight instructor, Robert Morgan, said he was on break when he got a call from an in-flight passenger saying the pilot had “gone incoherent” and he needed help landing the plane.
“I rush over there and I walk in and the room is really busy … and they’re like, ‘Hey, this pilot’s incapacitated. The passengers are flying the plane. They have no flying experience,” Robert told CNN on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Oh boy.'”Advertisement
The passenger spoke to Robert and said they were flying in a single-engine Cessna 208 and were coming from the Bahamas going towards Florida when their pilot passed out and they were desperately in need of assistance with landing the plane.
“I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger was telling air traffic controllers on Tuesday afternoon as he stressed that it was a “serious situation.”
After speaking with the passenger, Robert learned the man had never flown a plane before, but he had been around aviation before and witnessed other pilots fly.
“He was really calm,” Robert told CNN. “He said, ‘I don’t know how to fly. I don’t know how to stop this thing if I do get on the runway.'”
Robert said that he had never flown this model of Cessna before, however, he pulled up a photograph of the plane’s instrument panel layout and started guiding the passenger on how to fly the plane step-by-step.
“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,” the air traffic controller can be heard telling the passenger in audio shared by CNN. “Try to follow the coast either north or southbound. We’re trying to locate you.”
Robert guided the passenger toward the area’s biggest airport and the passenger was able to turn and position the aircraft eight miles from Palm Beach International Airport.
Carefully following Robert’s instructions, the man was able to safely touch the plane down to the runway, something that normally takes over 20 hours to learn how to do with a flight instructor. Robert rated the man’s landing a 10-out-of-10.
“I felt like I was going to cry then, because I had so much adrenaline built up,” Robert told CNN. “I was really happy that it worked out and that nobody got hurt.”
Other pilots listening in on the airwave were completely stunned at what just happened and expressed to each other how incredible of a thing it was that the inexperienced man was able to land the plane.
“You just witnessed a couple of passengers land that plane,” the tower operator can be heard telling an American Airlines pilot waiting to take off for Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Did you say the passengers landed the airplane?” the American Airlines pilot asked back, CNN reported. “Oh, my God. Great job!”
The Federal Aviation Administration said the original Cessna pilot had a possible medical issue, but it was not said yet what exactly the condition was.
After the passenger landed, Robert walked over to meet him, and the passenger ran up and gave him a big emotional hug saying thank you for helping him land the plane.
“It was an emotional moment. He said that he just wanted to get home to his pregnant wife,” Robert told CNN. “And that felt even better. In my eyes, he was the hero. I was just doing my job.”