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Passenger with no flying experience lands aircraft

Resources available to help other pilots prepare

When the pilot of a Cessna 208 became incapacitated while flying from the Bahamas to Florida, a passenger with no flying experience kept cool, contacted air traffic control, and followed controllers’ guidance to a safe landing.

When nonpilots go for a flight, some may wonder what it would take to fly and land the aircraft safely should something happen to their pilot. That scenario became a reality on May 10, when the pilot of a Cessna 208 became “incoherent,” according to air traffic control audio recorded by referenced in many media reports. Many of the details, including the names of controllers who helped guide the flight to a safe landing, were made public by the FAA in a blog post on May 11.

Once the aircraft was located on radar, the passenger was transferred to Air Traffic Controller and CFI Robert Morgan at Palm Beach Tower. “He was really calm,” Morgan told CNN. “He said, ‘I don’t know how to fly. I don’t know how to stop this thing if I do get on the runway.’”

Using a photo of the Cessna 208’s instrument panel, Morgan talked the passenger through the basics, instructing him to keep the wings level and start a slow descent. Eventually the passenger landed the aircraft safely at Palm Beach International Airport.

While pilot incapacitation is thankfully rare, there are ways to prepare nonpilot passengers to take action should you become unable to fly. The Pinch Hitter Safety Spotlight developed by the AOPA Air Safety Institute can help pilots prepare passengers, particularly friends and family with whom they frequently fly, for the unexpected.

AOPA also has resources for CFIs interested in teaching the pitch hitting syllabus to their students’ prospective passengers.

AOPA encourages pilots to brief their passengers that passengers should always speak up if they see something that looks like a problem—including the pilot's health—and to suggest landing at a nearby airport if it seems appropriate. Pinch Hitter students are also advised to follow the example set by the passenger who landed the airplane in Florida: Remain calm and focus first on maintaining level flight.

Niki Britton

eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.
Topics: ATC

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