TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County man is impressing the world with his composure under pressure landing a plane when his pilot became “incoherent.”
News Channel 8 has learned the passenger-turned-pilot is Darren Harrison, of Lakeland. He was a passenger on a CESSNA 208 plane that left the Bahamas Tuesday morning.
Harrison, without any experience flying a plane, successfully landed the plane at Palm Beach International Airport.
Harrison declined an interview Wednesday.
According to a report from WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach, the Cessna Caravan took off from Leonard M. Thompson International Airport in the Bahamas and was over the Florida coastline when the pilot became “incapacitated.” The passenger took over the controls and radioed for help.
“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane,” Harrison said.
“Roger. What’s your position?” Air Traffic Control responded.
“I have no idea,” the passenger said. “I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.”
Robert Morgan, one of the air traffic controllers was outside the tower reading a book when they got the call.
“I’m naturally a calm person so I think that helped me a little bit but I just kind of took a deep breath and I just said, ‘We gotta get it done’,” Morgan told NBC News.
The air traffic controllers told the man to keep the wings level and continue up the coast until they were able to find his plane above Boca Raton.
Although Morgan had never flown a Cessna Caravan, he was able to guide the man to land safely by looking at a picture of the cockpit.
“I kept trying to talk to him and he said ‘I’m on the ground, what do you want me to do now? How do you stop this?’ and my heart just kind of sank and I kept thinking, thank God,” said Morgan.
“The way he remained calm is why he’s alive today,” said Nathan Romero, a flight instructor who works at Legends Airways in Lakeland. “A lot of us, not just pilots, but a lot of us in general as people, can learn from that – that remaining calm during a situation, as scary as what he just experienced, is extremely important.”
“You just witnessed a couple passengers land that plane,” one of the controllers reportedly said over the radio.
“Did you say the passengers landed the plane?” another asked.
“That’s correct,” the controlled replied.
“Oh, my gosh. Great job.”
Morgan said he met the passenger on the tarmac and they hugged it out.
“It felt really good to help somebody and he told me that he couldn’t wait to get home and hug his pregnant wife,” Morgan said.