Passenger lands plane in Florida: how did aircraft reach Palm Beach?

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The passenger, identified as Darren Harrison, told air traffic controllers he had “no idea how to fly the plane”.

Passenger Darren Harrison was able to land the plane safely with the help of Air Traffic Controller Robert Morgan (Picture: Robert Morgan/CBS)

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A passenger with no flying experience managed to land a plane safely at Florida airport after its pilot suffered what was believed to be a medical emergency.

The previously unidentified passenger was identified as Darren Harrison.

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What happened?

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On Tuesday, May 10, around noon EDT (which is approximately 5pm in the UK), the pilot of a Cessna 208 flying from the Bahamas to Florida told the two passengers on the plane that he was not feeling well.

Then the pilot passed out, causing the plane to go into a nosedive.

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Both passengers had no prior flying experience, but that didn’t stop Harrison from springing into action.

He managed to pull the plane out of the nosedive and called the Fort Pierce Tower at Treasure Coast International Airport. He referred the incident to air traffic controllers, adding that he had no flying experience.

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Fort Pierce Tower controller Christopher “Chip” Flores got the call, and with the assistance of operations manager Justin Boyle, the two managed to teach Harrison how to take control of the plane.

They calmly told Harrison to fly straight and begin a gradual descent – this gave time for air traffic control to locate the plane.

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Flores requested that Harrison change his radio frequency to Palm Beach air traffic control, but he did not know how to change the frequency – instead, simple emergency radios were used to guide the plane to safety.

Robert Morgan, a certified flight instructor with experience piloting a Cessna aircraft, was brought in to show Harrison to the Palm Beach airport.

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Members of the air traffic control team at the Palm Beach Tower intervened to provide assistance, halting departures at the airport and contacting nearby control facilities to place planes on hold to make room for the Cessna 208 to land.

Morgan was able to guide Harrison through the process of turning, selecting the aircraft’s flap settings, and landing. When Harrison sighted the Palm Beach runway, it was time for the final approach.

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Once the plane was over the runway, Morgan explained how to break and adjust levers since Harrison didn’t know how to stop the plane.

The Cessna 208 landed successfully at 4:07 p.m. local time, with first responders present to assist the aircraft’s original pilot. Neither Harrison nor his passenger had any injuries.

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What was said in the audio recording?

LiveATC.neta website that streams live air traffic audio captured the exchange between Harrison and the air traffic controllers.

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Harrison said: “I have a serious situation here. My pilot has lost his mind and I have no idea how to fly the plane.”

When asked about the pilot, he repeated: “He’s incoherent. He is outside.”

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After the air traffic controller asked about the plane’s position, Harrison said, “I have no idea. I see the Florida coast and I have no idea.”

The controller can be heard instructing Harrison to “try to follow the coast either north or south” as they tried to locate the plan.

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Air traffic controller Robert Morgan (left) and Darren Harrison (right) (Photo: Robert Morgan)

After about four minutes, Harrison asked, “Did you guys find me? I can’t even turn on my navi display. It has all the information on it. Do you have any ideas about that?”

Harrison is heard being guided to land the plane, with the controller saying, “Try to keep the wings level and see if you can start the descent for me, push the controls forward and climb.” at a very slow speed.”

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Other audio footage from LiveATC.net caught air traffic controllers expressing their amazement after the plane landed.

A tower operator is heard telling an American Airlines pilot, “You just saw some passengers land on that plane.”

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The American Airlines pilot replied, “Did you say the passengers landed on the plane? Oh my God. Well done.”

What was said about the incident?

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Speaking to CNN, flight instructor Morgan said he was taking a break when he was called to help.

He said: “I rush over and go in and the room is very crowded … and they’re like, ‘Hey, this pilot is incapacitated. The passengers fly the plane. You have no flying experience.”

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“I said, ‘Oh boy’.”

Neither Darren Harrison nor his passenger were injured (Picture: CBS)

Speaking to WPBF-TV, Morgan said: “I knew the plane flies like any other plane. All I knew was to hold him steady, point him to the runway, and tell him how to reduce power so he could land.

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“Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m down. How do I turn that thing off?”

Morgan explained that Harrison was “really calm” and that he felt like “crying” after the plane landed.

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He said: “I had built up so much adrenaline. I was very happy that it worked out and nobody got hurt.”

Who is the passenger?

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The passenger has been identified as Darren Harrison.

After the plane landed, Morgan and Harrison hugged.

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Morgan said: “It was an emotional moment. He said he just wanted to go home to his pregnant wife and that felt even better.”

He added: “In my eyes he was the hero. I was just doing my job.”

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