A passenger makes an emergency airplane landing in Florida An air traffic controller coached a passenger through the plane landing on Tuesday.

A passenger makes an emergency airplane landing in Florida

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It is every airplane passenger's biggest fear. Your pilot is incapacitated, and there is no other option but for you, a total novice, to take over the controls. That is exactly what happened this week in Florida. NPR's Becky Sullivan has the story.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Just before 11 a.m., a little puddle jumper, a Cessna Caravan, took off from the Bahamas, headed for the coast of Florida. But around noon, the pilot told his two passengers that he was not feeling well. Then he slumped against the controls, putting the plane into a nosedive and a sharp southward turn. That's when one man, who has not been named, took the controls, stabilized the plane and made the call to air traffic control.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I've got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly an airplane.

SULLIVAN: An air traffic controller named Chip Flores at an airport on Florida's coast answered the call.


CHIP FLORES: Lima Delta, Roger. What's your position?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me, but I have no idea.

SULLIVAN: To summarize, a pilot down for the count, a passenger at the controls with no idea how to fly and no idea where he is.


FLORES: Three Lima Delta. That came in a little broken. What was the situation with the pilot?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: He is incoherent. He is out.

FLORES: Three Lima Delta, Roger. Try to hold the wings level, and see if you can start descending for me.

SULLIVAN: I have no idea how to stop the airplane. I have no idea how to do anything, the passenger said at one point. Flores and his colleagues rang the alarm to air traffic controllers up and down the coast, and soon they located the plane 20 miles east of Boca Raton. At Palm Beach International Airport, air traffic controller Robert Morgan was on his lunch break. He had two decades of experience in the tower and also happened to be a flight instructor, though he'd never flown the Cessna Caravan. They printed out a picture of the cockpit, and Morgan got on the line with the passenger to coach him through the landing.

ROBERT MORGAN: Start bringing your power back slowly. Start looking towards the end of the runway. Start pulling the control wheel back, and you'll come in for a landing. And then before I knew it, he said, I'm on the ground now.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Aircraft at full stop, propeller stopped middle of the runway, emergencies running up on them.

SULLIVAN: A bit of a bumpy landing but not bad for a windy day. First responders took the original pilot to the hospital. The air traffic controllers at Palm Beach Airport are used to high-stakes stuff, Robert Morgan says. After all, Air Force One landed there regularly for four years.

MORGAN: You know, we've never had anything like that. When somebody just drops that bomb on you that you're not expecting like, here's the situation, it was just like, whoa. I felt like I was in a movie.

SULLIVAN: The two men met afterwards for a hug, he said, and they took a picture together. But they won't need that to remember what they've been through. Becky Sullivan, NPR News.


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