A passenger with no flying experience made an urgent request for help when the pilot of a small plane off the Atlantic coast of Florida suddenly fell ill, and with the help of air traffic controllers was able to land the plane safely.
“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the man said Tuesday afternoon, according to audio on LiveATC.net, the website that broadcasts and archives air traffic controller communications. “My pilot has become inconsolable. I don’t know how to fly an airplane.”
An air traffic controller at Fort Pierce responded, asking if he knew the status of the single-engine Cessna 208.
“I don’t know. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, and I don’t know,” said the traveler.
According to Flight Aware, the plane took off from Marsh Harbor International Airport in the Bahamas on Tuesday. The pilot and two passengers were on board the plane, according to a Federal Aviation Administration news release. Officials have not identified any of them.
As the plane took off over Florida, controller Christopher Flores, speaking very calmly, asked the passenger to “maintain the wings level and attempt to follow the coast to the north or south”. Twin controls enable the Cessna 208 to be operated from the passenger seat.
Minutes passed before controllers were able to locate the aircraft, which by then was heading north of Boca Raton.
Then the man’s voice faded, so the controller at Fort Pierce asked for the passenger’s cellphone number to enable controllers at Palm Beach International Airport to communicate more clearly with him.
Air traffic controller Robert Morgan, a 20-year veteran, told the passenger at the time for a safe landing. The FAA said Morgan is a certified flight instructor with experience piloting a Cessna aircraft.
“Kuds to the new pilot,” a controller told him as the plane went down the tarmac smoothly.
Officials said rescuers helped the original pilot. There was no injury to any of the passengers. Officials did not immediately say what caused the pilot to fall ill.
Morgan said in a video released by the FAA that he was just doing his job, but at a much higher level than he thought he would.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” Morgan said. “I felt like I was in a movie.”
Pilot down, passenger takes over with ‘no way to take off’