Pilot Suffers Stroke, Lands Nearly Blind With RAF Help

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Jim O'Neill, 65, was flying at 15,000 feet in clear weather over the UK when he suffered a stroke that compromised his vision. The pilot of 18 years sent a mayday and eventually made contact with an RAF base at Leeming in Northallerton. During that contact, O'Neill complained of trouble seeing the instrument panel. "At first he believed he was being blinded by sunlight," Wing Cdr Andy Hynd, commanding RAF officer at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, told BBC news. But the situation was worse -- O'Neill had a blood clot pressing against his optic nerve blinding him in one eye and compromising his vision in the other. Hynd's facility took the handoff from Leeming and directed O'Neill to a landing at Linton-on-Ouse but O'Neill in seven attempts failed to see the facility. Finally, with a chief flying instructor Wing Cdr Paul Gerrard flying O'Neill's wing in his Tucano T1, "telling him to turn left and right, to lower the plane and to do his pre-landing checks," and zigzagging to keep pace with the slower aircraft, O'Neill managed to pilot the aircraft down. It was "only at the last minute" on the eighth attempt and some 40 minutes since first contact that O'Neill visually picked up the runway as he touched down near its halfway point and came to a stop at its end.

While the RAF routinely practices guiding lost aircraft, "we are not used to shepherding blind pilots," said Wing Cdr Hynd. Following his successful landing, O'Neill was checked by base medics and then transfered to Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex. His sight appears to be gradually returning, in that he "can see the clock on the wall in his hospital room but is not yet able to read the time," according to the Times Online.