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Pilot conks out, passengers save the dayPilot conks out, passengers save the day


Although the likelihood of a pilot becoming incapacitated in flight is rare, accidents resulting from this are almost always fatal.

On May 5, 2005, the pilot of a Turbo Commander 695A and two passengers departed North Las Vegas Airport en route to San Diego. When they were level at 9,700 feet, the pilot started to cough repeatedly and put on his oxygen mask. He radioed departure control and told the controller they were returning to the airport.

After turning toward the airport, the pilot collapsed against the control yoke. The right seat passenger took control of the aircraft, and the back seat passenger held the pilot away from the controls.

A few minutes later, the front seat passenger was able to locate and disconnect the autopilot and started flying the plane. He then found the airport and flew toward it. While the front seat passenger made a landing pass, the rear seat passenger was able to contact the tower and informed them of the situation. The controller cleared them to land on any runway.

The front seat passenger flew three passes over the runway but thought they were all too high. On the fourth attempt, he flew low over nearby buildings, pitched up, and landed hard on the belly of the aircraft in the runway overrun area. Both passengers were able to exit the airplane. The pilot was taken to a nearby hospital but did not recover from his condition.

The front seat passenger had received some glider training about 25 years before the accident, but did not hold any pilot certificates.

The NTSB determined the cause of this accident obviously was the incapacitation of the pilot. The autopsy showed that he died from arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

Between 2000 and 2004, only 0.55 percent of all general aviation accidents were a result of pilot incapacitation. Flying an aircraft does take some training, and most of these accidents ended tragically because the passenger didn't know what to do.

If you are the only pilot onboard for your flights, you should encourage those who fly with you to take AOPA Air Safety Institute's Pinch Hitter Online Course. This course helps them become more comfortable with the aircraft; provides an overview of instruments, radios and flight controls; and gives tips on what to do if you become incapacitated.

Accident reports can be found in ASI's accident database.

Posted Thursday, November 02, 2006 12:21:14 PM