Passenger Lands Cessna 172 Skyhawk After Pilot Incapacitated

Instructors talk down non-pilot at UK airport.

When the pilot of a Cessna 172 lost consciousness over northern England on Tuesday, his passenger, 77-year-old John Wildey, knew enough to make a Mayday call. That initiated a flurry of rescue activity that resulted in a successful emergency landing, though the unidentified pilot later died after being taken to a hospital.

Wildey and the pilot were on a sightseeing flight from Sandtoft Airport, about 100 miles east of Manchester near the east coast of England. They were returning when the pilot became ill and passed out. After contacting controllers, Wildey followed their instructions to fly to Humberside Airport, about 10 miles east of Sandtoft near the city of Doncaster, with a much longer runway and emergency equipment available. Two instructors were hurried to the control tower where they prepared Wildey for his landing attempt. The situation was made more difficult by the fading daylight and the fact that neither the Cessna's cabin lighting nor its external running lights were illuminated.

Rob Murray, one of the instructors, said it took four attempts. On the third, he said, Wildey was still too fast and too high. But the next time, he instructed him to keep pulling back on the yoke, and everything else — including the throttle. "Whatever you can see, pull back and hold it back," Murray told Wildey. Though the landing reportedly sent sparks flying, Wildey was not injured and the Skyhawk did not appear to be seriously damaged, though the non-pilot later described it as a controlled crash.

Murray told reporters, "He did a beautiful landing. I wouldn't be frightened to fly with him."

For an Associated Press report of the story, view the video below.

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