A passenger with no flying experience landed a private plane safely at a Florida airport on Tuesday after the pilot suffered a medical problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The plane, a single-engine Cessna 208, landed at Palm Beach International Airport around 12:30 p.m., the FAA said. According to Flight Aware, a flight-tracking website, the plane had departed from Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas an hour and a half earlier.
There were only three people on board, the pilot and two passengers, the FAA said. Their names were not released.
In the afternoon, about an hour into the flight, the pilot said he was not feeling well and slumped against the controls, according to an FAA blog post. The plane dived and made a sharp turn, forcing one of the passengers to take over during the flight and stabilize the plane.
The air traffic control audio recorded the minutes before landing.
“I have a serious situation here,” the passenger told a controller at a tower in Fort Pierce, Florida, according to audio archived on LiveATC.net. “My pilot has become incoherent and I have no idea how to fly the plane.”
The passenger also said he did not know where the plane was.
“I can see the Florida coast and I have no idea,” said the passenger, who also struggled to turn on the sat nav.
During a nearly 10-minute exchange, the air traffic controller, Christopher Flores, then guided the passenger about 20 miles east of Boca Raton, telling him to keep the wings level, follow the shoreline, and try to descend slowly. Air traffic control at Palm Beach International Airport then took over.
Robert Morgan, the air traffic controller who… helped the passenger land the plane successfully in Palm Beach, described the experience in an interview with local news channel WPBF.
“I knew the plane flew like any other plane, I just knew to keep it calm, point it to the runway and tell him how to reduce power so he could descend to land,” said Mr. Morgan.
Morgan, an experienced air traffic controller and flight instructor, said in an interview released by the FAA that he had never flown a Cessna 208 aircraft before. A colleague printed out images of the plane’s cockpit for his reference. mr. Morgan instructed the passenger how to land and stop the plane.
“Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m on the ground, how do I turn this thing off?'” Mr. Morgan told WPBF. He hugged the passenger after he arrived on the tarmac.
To become a private pilot with a single engine rating requires a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, including at least 10 hours of solo flying and multiple takeoffs and landings, according to federal aviation laws.
The owner of the Cessna 208 plane is a public company registered in Delaware, according to data from the FAA, which is investigating. The company could not be reached for comment.
After the emergency landing, one patient was transported to a nearby hospital, the Palm Beach County Fire Department told CBS. The passengers were not injured, the FAA said.
Kitty Bennett research contributed.