A passenger with no flight training was able to land a Cessna Caravan in Palm Beach on Tuesday after the pilot collapsed at the controls. The passenger, Darren Harrison, of Lakeland, Florida, one of two passengers, was able to contact air traffic control. “I’ve got a serious situation here,” the passenger said in his initial call. “My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.” After some initial guidance from controllers to get the aircraft stabilized, he was directed to Palm Beach and controller Robert Morgan, a former flight instructor, talked him in.
Morgan reportedly downloaded an image of the panel layout on a Caravan to help him tell the passenger what to push, pull and flick, but it seems his main message to the remarkably calm sudden pilot was to keep that demeanor. “I knew that if he just kept the plane, the nose pointed down and head to the big runway he had a really good chance as long as he didn’t panic,” Morgan told WPBF. The result was a slightly wobbly three pointer on the runway. Morgan was obviously careful not to overload the neophyte aviator with unnecessary information. With all three firmly on the asphalt, the passenger keyed the mic for one last bit of direction. “I have no idea how to stop the airplane.”
There were some tense moments shortly after the pilot went unconscious when the plane entered a 250-knot dive and lost about 2,500 feet before recovery. The flight originated in the Bahamas and was tracking north of Palm Beach when the pilot collapsed. The Caravan was undamaged and the pilot was taken to a Palm Beach hospital where he stayed overnight. The cause of his incapacitation was not released. The aircraft appears to be privately owned by two partners in Connecticut. AVweb left a message for Harrison, 39, who is part owner of an interior design and supply store in Lakeland but did not get a response. He has apparently refused all requests for media interviews so far.
An earlier version of this story said Harrison was the only passenger but new reports say there was at least one other person on board.