Doug White, 56, had about 130 hours total time in Cessna 172s when he faced the sort of challenge usually reserved for characters in action movies. On Easter Sunday, with his wife and two teenage daughters on board, White was in the right seat of a King Air 200 when the pilot-in-command collapsed and died.
They were just 15 minutes into the flight from Marco Island, Florida, to their destination, Monroe County, Louisiana. Taking the controls, White found the King Air was set on autopilot and it continued to climb through the flight’s assigned altitude of 10,000 feet. Though not instrument rated, White took over above a cloud layer. He contacted air traffic control, was able to disconnect the autopilot and hand flew the twin turboprop to a safe landing at Fort Myers International Airport. The whole episode took a little more than an hour. White’s calm demeanor and focus was mirrored by a team of air traffic controllers. While one controller provided vectors and altitude assignments, others cleared traffic from White’s path. Another controller at Fort Myers Center contacted a King Air pilot in Connecticut who relayed vital information on control inputs, power settings and approach speeds.
Sadly, 67-year-old Air Force veteran pilot Joe Cabuk could not be revived. But White’s calm and poise led to a successful, lifesaving landing. Doug White’s company, White Equipment Leasing LLC of Archibald, Louisiana, is the registered owner of the King Air, N559DW. While White was surely thanking the controllers and pilot who helped him (along with his lucky stars), he might want to add a very important someone to that thank-you list. Robert Goyer weighs in on White’s heroic step-up.