A man with no flight experience successfully landed a plane at Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA) Tuesday afternoon after the pilot became “incoherent” due what appeared to be a medical issue.
The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) said the stressful situation unfolded aboard a single-engine Cessna 208 around 12:30 p.m., WPTV reported.
“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger told Fort Pierce air traffic control (ATC), according to a transcript of the exchange shared by WPBF.
“I see the coast of Florida in front of me and I have no idea,” the passenger said when asked about his position.
ATC at Fort Pierce instructed the passenger to begin a slow descent while holding the wings level.
The passenger informed ATC at Fort Pierce that he was descending at 500 feet per minute, and personnel at the tower instructed him to stop his descent at 5,000 feet. As ATC attempted to locate the plane, the passenger was directed to follow the coastline northbound or southbound.
The Fort Pierce ATC eventually notified the man that the ATC at PBIA had located him some 20 miles east of Boca Raton. The tower instructed the man to fly at 5,000 feet northbound along the coastline and provided him with a phone number to call so he could get in contact with someone who could help him maneuver the plane.
Eventually, Fort Pierce ATC informed the man that he would be online with the Palm Beach ATC over the radio frequency shortly, and that personnel would direct him to land the plane at the West Palm Beach airport. The radio then went silent.
Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller at PBIA who has two decades of tower experience and 1,200 hours of flight instruction experience, was reading a book on his break when he was alerted to the situation, WPBF reported. Having never flown the plane model the passenger was flying, Morgan pulled up an image of the cockpit to better understand what the man was dealing with.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane, I just knew I had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land,” Morgan told WPBF.
Working with the air traffic controller, the passenger successfully landed the Cessna.
“You just witnessed a couple of passengers land that plane,” an air traffic controller said over the radio, according to audio from liveatc.net. He added, “They did a great job.” CNN reports that the controller made the comment to an American Airlines pilot awaiting take-off.
“Passengers landed the airplane?” the pilot asked. “Oh my gosh, great job.”
Morgan and the passenger who landed the plane shared an embrace after the landing, and the passenger informed the air traffic controller that he was heading home to be with his pregnant wife, CNN noted.
The FAA said there were only two people on the plane and did not identify the pilot or passenger, nor did it provide an update on the pilot’s condition, WPBF noted. It did report that the pilot possibly suffered a medical issue, according to CNN.
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