An air traffic controller has described how he helped a passenger with no flying experience land a plane after its pilot became incapacitated.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane,” Robert Morgan, a controller at Palm Beach International Airport (PBIA) in Florida, told WPBF. “I just knew I had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land.”
Mr Morgan has been hailed a hero for his quick thinking and expert guidance, which likely saved multiple lives as the plane landed safely on a PBIA runway on Tuesday afternoon.
For the air traffic controller – who’s worked at the airport for 20 years – the emergency began while he was on his lunch break. As he was reading a book outside the control tower, the lead controller, Gregory Battani, called him with alarming news.
“There’s a passenger flying a plane that’s not a pilot, and the pilot is incapacitated so they said you need to help them try and land the plane,” Mr Morgan recalled Mr Battani telling him.
Mr Morgan jumped into action. Though he’s an experienced flight instructor, he had never flown the particular Cessna aircraft the passenger was now operating, so he used a photo of the control panel to guide him.
“I said, ‘All right, we are going to get you to a runway. What do you see now?’” Mr Morgan told the news station. “He said he was just passing the shoreline near Boca.”
It didn’t take long before the passenger was descending.
“Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m on the ground, how do I turn this thing off?’” Mr Morgan said.
Miraculously, the passenger managed to safely bring the plane to a stop. When it was all over, he and Mr Morgan embraced on the tarmac.
“He told me that he couldn’t wait to get home and hug his pregnant wife,” the air traffic controller said.
It’s still unclear why the Cessna’s original pilot was incapacitated. The Federal Aviation Administration has said the person suffered a “possible medical issue.” The agency is investigating the incident.
In a blog post, the FAA gave a detailed account of the dramatic events, describing how a whole team of air traffic controllers – including Christopher Flores, Justin Boyle, and Joshua Somers – pitched in to help the passenger before Mr Morgan took over.
Mr Morgan says he’s happy to have been part of that effort – but doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“At the end of the day, I feel like I was just doing my job,” Morgan told the FAA, “but it was like on a higher level than you thought you’d have to do it.”