A passenger on a private plane landed safely at Palm Beach Airport on Tuesday after the pilot became incapacitated.
The unidentified passenger radioed for help, telling an air traffic controller what was happening.
“I’ve got a serious situation here about my pilot. He’s incoherent. Uh … I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger said. He later added, “He’s incoherent. He’s out.”
The air traffic controller, Robert Morgan, guided the passenger who found himself behind the yoke as the turbo prop aircraft traveled just off the coast of Florida, according to audio transmission from LiveATC.net.
The passenger did not know where the airplane was headed and could only relay the altitude to Morgan, the traffic controller.
“I have the coast in front of me,” the passenger said.
With a calm voice, the air traffic controller at Treasure Coast International Airport in Florida instructed the passenger how to use his transponder so the aircraft could be located via radar. He told the passenger to descend to 5,000 feet, according to the audio transmission.
“Maintain wings level and just try to follow the coast, either north or southbound,” Morgan said. “We’re trying to locate you.”
The air controller continued to provide directions on how to operate the Cessna Caravan, but at times the passenger could not locate the instruments. Still, Morgan quietly let the passenger know when the aircraft was located by radar, approximately 20 miles east of Boca Raton.
“Just continue northbound over the beach and we’ll try to get you some further instructions,” Morgan said.
Eventually, the pilot was patched through to the Palm Beach International Airport control tower. It’s unclear how long the flight lasted or how many other air controllers spoke to the impromptu pilot before the airplane landed and emergency crews responded to the runway. Air traffic controllers at the Palm Beach airport directed other pilots to keep the runway clear as the Cessna landed, according to the audio.
“It’s gonna be a couple of minutes. You just witnessed a couple of passengers land that plane,” the air controller at Palm Beach told a pilot aboard another aircraft. “Man, they did a great job.”
The pilot asked, “Did you say the passengers landed the airplane?”
“That’s correct,” the air controller said.
“Oh my gosh, that was a great job,” the pilot replied.
“No experience,” the air controller said. “We got a controller that worked them down. I think he is a flight instructor.”
“Epic,” the pilot chirped over the radio.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the single-engine Cessna 208 landed safely around 12:30 p.m. “following a possible pilot medical issue.” The FAA will be investigating the incident, according to a spokesperson.
CNN reports that Morgan, the air controller, was on a break when he got the first call from the Cessna. While Morgan is a flight instructor, he said he did not have any experience flying that particular model that the passenger was flying.
“I felt like I was going to cry then, because I had so much adrenaline built up,” Morgan told CNN. “I was really happy that it worked out and that nobody got hurt.”
After the landing, Morgan hugged the passenger whom he had just met over the radio.
“It was an emotional moment. He said that he just wanted to get home to his pregnant wife,” Morgan said. “And that felt even better.”
“In my eyes, he was the hero,” Morgan said. “I was just doing my job.”