The air-traffic controller who helped a passenger land a plane in Florida when the pilot became incapacitated said he knew he had to keep the novice “calm” as he coached him through the heart-racing ordeal.
Longtime aviator and flight instructor Robert Morgan was outside the tower at Palm Beach International Airport reading a book while on break Tuesday afternoon when a colleague flagged him down about the emergency, WPBF reported.
“There’s a passenger flying a plane that’s not a pilot and the pilot is incapacitated so they said you need to help them try and land the plane!” the co-worker yelled to him, according to the outlet.
In most cases, talking an inexperienced person down in a plane is a daunting task – which in this case was even trickier because the Cessna Grand Caravan involved is a 38-foot-long utility single-engine turboprop that typically seats 14, a big and heavy aircraft.
But Morgan, a controller with 20 years of experience in the tower, has about 1,200 hours in the cockpit under his belt and is also a flight instructor, according to WPBF.
“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,” he said.
Although Morgan had never flown the Grand Caravan, he used an image of the cockpit to understand the layout the passenger had in front of him.
“I’ve got a serious situation here about my pilot,” the novice pilot is heard saying about 70 miles north of his final destination, according to audio posted by LiveATC.net. “He’s incoherent, no idea how to fly the airplane but I’m maintaining 9,100.”
The controller asks: “Caravan 33 Lima Delta, roger, what’s your position?”
“I have no idea. I have the coast in front of me, but I have no idea,” the passenger replies.
“Do you know how to operate the transponder? Can you squawk 7700,” the controller asks, referring to the device that signals a plane’s location and the radio code that indicates an emergency.
As the man tried to input 7700, he again calmly tells the controller that the pilot is “incoherent. He’s out.”
“Roger, try to hold the wings level and see if you can start descending for me. Push forward on the controls and descend it at a very slow rate,” the controller tells him.
As the newbie descends to 5,000 feet, the controller instructs him to follow the coastline as they tried to locate the plane.
“If able, hit the ident button on the transponder,” the controller says, referring to the button a pilot uses to signal a target flash on radar. He then informs the pilot that he was about 20 miles east of Boca Raton.
“Continue, maintain 5,000, northbound over the beach,” he says before asking the man to call a number on a cellphone.
“Before I knew it, he was like, ‘I’m on the ground. How do I turn this thing off?’” said Morgan, who met the level-headed pilot and hugged him on the tarmac.
“It felt really good to help somebody, and he told me that he was going to go home tonight to see his pregnant wife,” he said.
When the nail-biting sage was over, another controller was heard saying: “You just witnessed a couple passengers land that plane.”
“Did you say the passengers landed the plane?” an American Airlines pilot was heard asking.
“That’s correct,” the controlled replied.
“Oh, my gosh. That was a great job,” the pilot said.
“No flying experience,” the controller says.
An aviation expert told WPBF that the controller’s relatively modest praise for the virgin pilot was a huge understatement.
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of one of these [Cessna Caravans] being landed by somebody that has no aeronautical experience,” John Nance told the outlet.
“The person on the airplane who had no aeronautical experience listened very carefully and obviously followed instructions with great calm,” he added. “That’s what made the difference.”
Neither the name of the heroic passenger nor the condition of the sick pilot was released.
The Federal Aviation Administration said he is believed to have suffered a medical emergency, as it continued to investigate.
The Palm Beach International Airport did not immediately respond to a request for comment by The Post.