The rooms of Motor1.com are filled with aviation enthusiasts, including your humble author who has some experience flying behind the yoke of light aircraft. The Cessna 208 is not a multi-engine jumbo jet, but with seating for over a dozen passengers, it’s a common commuter plane a far cry from a 150 or 172 trainer. So when we heard that a passenger had landed one safely after the pilot passed out, we were impressed.
When we learned that the passenger had absolutely no flight experience, it was a story that we simply had to share here.
Around noon local time in Florida on May 10, air traffic controllers received a transmission from Darren Harrison. He was one of two passengers on a Cessna 208 returning from a fishing trip when the pilot suffered a medical emergency. Describing a “serious situation”, Harrison said the pilot was inconsistent and did not know how to fly the plane. Fortunately, air traffic controller Robert Morgan was working that day at nearby Palm Beach International Airport, and he is also a certified flight instructor. Between Morgan’s instructions and Harrison remaining calm, he piloted the 208 to a madly good landing.
Talk to Today in the video above, Harrison talked about staying calm during the process, saying there was just no time to panic.
“Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re going to die. And that’s what I did,” Harrison said in the interview.
Sounds simple enough, and some might think it’s pretty easy to land a smaller single-engine plane like the 208 Caravan. This is not the case – even on small trainer planes the pilot has to deal with fuel mixture settings, throttle settings, flap settings and radios. The 208 also has propeller settings and more complex hardware, and then you still actually have to fly the plane, keeping an eye on forward speed, vertical speed, altitude, bank angle, yaw, and obstacles outside the plane as you approach of the ground.
The flare – the point just before touchdown where the pilot brings the plane back to level the descent – is something that takes practice to get right. Flare too soon and you’ll float above the ground until you run out of track or stall, slamming to the ground. Flare too late and you’ll skip straight to the slamming part. The video at the top of the article shows Harrison being about right, landing a little hard, but hey, even seasoned pros have a hard landing sometimes. Considering this is his absolute first attempt, Harrison’s effort is nothing short of extraordinary.
The story also has an extra-happy ending. The pilot who suffered the medical emergency is said to be in stable condition. As for Harrison, we don’t know if he’ll take flying lessons after this experience, but if there’s ever been a case of natural talent caught on camera, it could be the best we’ve ever seen.