A Passenger With No Flight Experience Just Landed An Impressively-Sized Plane At Palm Beach International Airport

Plane Passenger Landing

Landing a plane after the pilot passes out is some real action movie-type stuff, yet that’s exactly what happened aboard a Cessna 208 Caravan in Florida on Tuesday afternoon. With assistance from air traffic control and a little bit of location-based luck, an unqualified passenger was able to take the controls and touch down safely.

A Cessna 208 is a utility aircraft, so while it uses a single turboprop engine and tricycle fixed landing gear, the aircraft’s scale is a bit different than of a light aircraft. We’re talking about a plane more than ten feet longer than a Cessna 172, a plane with a rated landing distance of 1,655 feet. That’s more than 16 and a half Ford F-150 Lightnings longer than than the landing distance of a Cessna 172. Thankfully, this particular Cessna 208 was flying out of the Bahamas and made it within landing distance of Palm Beach International Airport. After the pilot passed out, a passenger got on the line to air traffic control and let me tell you, luck was in the air that day.

Palm Beach International Airport Photo D Ramey Logan
Palm Beach International Airport photo by D Ramey Logan, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37001238

Or should I say, luck was on the ground. According to CNN, Robert Morgan was working air traffic control on Tuesday, and he happens to also be a certified flight instructor. Morgan had never flown a Cessna 208 before, but he’s a quick-thinker who printed out a copy of the cockpit layout for reference and guidance. Sensing that things might get hairy, Morgan advised the passenger to point the airplane towards Palm Beach International Airport from eight miles out because when you don’t have any experience, you’re gonna need room for error.

Thankfully, not much room for error was needed. Despite the passenger flying the plane having zero flight training, everything went flawlessly. The landing was perhaps a little wobbly, but thanks to guidance from Morgan and excellent weather conditions, the passenger brought that bird down smoothly enough to earn kudos from an American Airlines pilot who was waiting for takeoff and witnessed the whole thing. Have a listen to this audio clip.

Honestly, I’m impressed. While it’s entirely legal to fly a 208 Caravan on a private pilot’s license with a high-performance endorsement, even a trainee often needs about 20 hours of training before learning to land. While talk-down landings aren’t unprecedented, they have happened before. However, most passenger-assisted landings have involved passengers with pilot experience or air support. The only story of a passenger helping to land a passenger jet was that of Air Force Captain Mark Gongol hopping into the co-pilot seat of American Airlines 737 after the pilot suffered a medical emergency. While communicating with ATC is a noble feat, experience piloting a B1B bomber certainly helped.

As far as pure talk-down landings go, every report I’ve found involving a larger plane had a passenger with at least some aviation experience behind the controls. On April 13, 2009, passenger Doug White landed a Beechcraft Super King Air twin-engine turboprop at Southwest Florida International Airport after the pilot died behind the controls. CNN reported that while White was licensed to fly a single-engine Cessna, he had neither the experience nor certification for a Super King Air. On April 2, 2012, 80-year-old Helen Collins landed a Cessna 414 twin-engine turboprop in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc. after her husband John experienced a medical emergency while flying the plane. Unfortunately, John didn’t make it, but a report from ABC claims that guidance from another airplane and Helen’s experience piloting single-engine aircraft helped the octogenarian land the Cessna 414 without incident.

Plane Passenger Landing 2

As it stands, we may have just witnessed the first time someone with no aviation experience has brought a plane as big as a Cessna 208 Caravan down on the tarmac safely. Impressive stuff. While the identity of the passenger and the condition of the pilot are unknown, I hope the pilot made it and the passenger was able to rest for a bit afterwards. Piloting a utility plane is demanding enough when you know what you’re doing, let alone when you have absolutely no idea what you’re doing.

Lead screenshot: NBC

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28 Responses

  1. I’m skeptical of the zero experience detail. He seems to understand air traffic controller lingo pretty well.
    I’d be screwed in that situation.
    “Adjust your throttle.”
    How, I can’t exactly climb out and pop the hood at this height!
    “Push up on the controls.”
    Which controls? There’s a hundred of them! I’d just be stomping on an imaginary brake pedal screaming. I’d like to think my last words in that situation would be (turning back to the other horrified passengers) “Have you ever seen a grown man naked?”

  2. Very impressive, especially with how calm the passenger was, while admitting he had no idea what he was doing or where he was. Heck I crashed all the time when I was playing Microsoft Flight Simulator.

  3. I heard some of the other pilots on a report. They were impressed at the landed, then when it known is a person with zero flight experience, they were very impressed if not awestruck.

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