Passenger with 'no idea how to fly' plane lands aircraft in Florida

Air traffic controllers called man's mobile phone and talked him through landing

Air traffic controllers in Fort Pierce, Florida, helped navigate the man to safety. Reuters

When the pilot of a Cessna plane flying off the Atlantic Coast of Florida became too sick to navigate, the passenger used the cockpit radio to make an urgent plea for help.

“I’ve got a serious situation here,” the man said on Tuesday. “My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the aeroplane.”

An air traffic controller at Fort Pierce, which is on Florida's east coast, responded, asking if he knew his position.

“I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me and I have no idea,” he said.

Twin controls enable a Cessna 280 to be steered from the passenger seat. Speaking very calmly, the controller told him to “maintain wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or southbound”.

Minutes passed before controllers were able to find the aircraft, which by then was heading north over Boca Raton.

Then the man’s voice start to fade, so the controller in Fort Pierce asked for his mobile phone number to enable controllers at Palm Beach International Airport to communicate with him more clearly.

Air traffic controller Robert Morgan, a 20-year veteran, took over at that point, talking the passenger down to a safe landing.

“Kudos to the new pilot,” one controller told him after the aircraft smoothly wheeled down the tarmac.

Mr Morgan told WPBF that he felt like he was in the right place at the right time.

“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane. I just had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and just tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land. It felt really good to help someone,” he said.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Rick Breitenfeldt confirmed that the pilot and passenger were the only two people aboard.

The agency is investigating the incident, he said in an email. There was no immediate word on the condition of the pilot and authorities have not released the identities of the two people in the plane.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: May 12, 2022, 6:45 AM