Passenger Lands Caravan After Pilot Becomes ‘Incoherent’

Air traffic controllers guide passenger with no flight training to a safe landing.

The passenger landed the Cessna Caravan at Palm Beach International Airport. [File photo: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University]

A passenger with no piloting experience landed a Cessna 208 Caravan on Tuesday at Palm Beach International Airport (KPBI) with the help of air traffic controllers after the airplane’s pilot reportedly suffered a medical emergency that incapacitated him.

“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”

The passenger who landed the Cessna 208 speaking with the control tower at Treasure Coast International Airport (KFPR) on an air traffic control recording.

“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” the passenger could be heard saying to the tower controller at Treasure Coast International Airport (KFPR) in Fort Pierce, Florida, on an air traffic control recording.

The controller responded, “Roger. Try to hold the wings level and see if you can start descending for me. Push forward on the controls and descend at a very slow rate.”

The passenger told the controller he was descending at 550 fpm, and the controller told him to “continue the descent and try to level out at 5,000 feet.”

As the controller tried to find the aircraft on radar, he gave the passenger the frequency for Palm Beach Approach. The passenger told him, “I have no idea how to stop the airplane. I don’t know how to do anything.” 

Later the controller began to have intermittent difficulty hearing the passenger on the radio and gave the passenger a telephone number, saying, “If you can, on your cellphone, give that phone number a call. They’re going to get you in touch with somebody that can help you maneuver that plane.”

Clockwise from top left: Photo 1: Controller Robert Morgan, left, with the passenger he helped land a single-engine Cessna safely after an unusual in-flight emergency. Photo 2: Air Traffic Manager Ryan Warren (left) and Morgan (center) show the passenger printouts of the Cessna 208 flight deck they used to help him land safely at Palm Beach Airport. Photo 3: The Cessna safely on the runway. Photo 4: The flight path of the Cessna 208. Photo 5: A close up of the printout of the Cessna 208 flight deck controls. [Courtesy: FAA]

Shortly afterward, the Fort Pierce controller handed the airplane off to a controller at Palm Beach, who guided the passenger to the runway.

"The passenger initially wanted to land at Boca Raton, but [controller Robert] Morgan instead guided him to Palm Beach International Airport because it had a longer runway, was less congested, and had adequate radio coverage," an FAA representative told FLYING.

On video shown on a number of newscasts, the landing looks remarkably smooth. An airport spokeswoman said there were two passengers and one pilot on the airplane. Their identities have not been released. She also said the air traffic controllers did “an amazing job.” She referred additional questions to the FAA.

In a statement, the FAA confirmed the Caravan “landed safely at Palm Beach International Airport around 12:30 p.m. local time Tuesday following a possible pilot medical issue,” and said it will investigate the incident. The agency also said the condition of the original pilot was not known.

According to the FAA, the aircraft is registered to Beach Amphibian LLC, an Easy Haven, Connecticut, company that could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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