plane news: pilot down, passenger takes over with ‘no idea how to fly’

A passenger with no flying experience radioed an urgent call for help when the pilot of a small plane suddenly fell ill off the Atlantic coast of Florida and was able to land the plane safely with help from air traffic controllers.

“I have a serious situation here,” the man said Tuesday afternoon, according to audio on LiveATC.net, a website that streams and archives air traffic controller communications. “My pilot has become inconsistent. I have no idea how to fly the plane.”

A Fort Pierce air traffic controller responded, asking if he knew the position of the single-engine Cessna 208.

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

According to Flight Aware, the plane took off earlier Tuesday from Marsh Harbor International Airport in the Bahamas. The plane was occupied by the pilot and two passengers, according to a Federal Aviation Administration press release. Officials have not identified any.

As the plane flew over Florida, controller Christopher Flores, speaking very calmly, told the passenger to “keep the wings level and try to follow the coast, either north or south.” Twin controls allow a Cessna 208 to be steered from the passenger seat.

A few minutes passed before controllers could locate the plane, which was then heading north over Boca Raton.

Then the man’s voice seemed to fade, so the Fort Pierce controller asked for the passenger’s cell phone number to allow 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, urging the passenger to land safely. Morgan is a certified flight instructor with experience flying Cessna aircraft, the FAA said.

“Congratulations to the new pilot,” a controller told him after the plane rolled smoothly over the tarmac.

Rescuers helped the original pilot, officials said. None of the passengers were injured. Officials did not immediately say what caused the pilot’s illness.

Morgan said in a video released by the FAA that he was just doing his job, but at a higher level than he thought he had to.

“We’ve never had anything like it,” Morgan said. “I felt like I was in a movie.”