‘No idea’ passenger lands Florida plane as pilot falls ill

The plane and emergency crews

News networks in Florida are searching for a mystery passenger who landed a plane solo after his pilot passed out.

The unidentified man’s voice was heard in public flight recordings telling the airport tower that he had “no idea how to stop the airplane”.

An air traffic controller who teaches new pilots helped guide the man down to Palm Beach International Airport just after noon on Tuesday.

The two met on the tarmac for a hug, but reportedly did not exchange names.

“I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent,” the man was heard saying over the radio from around 9,000ft (2,750 meters) in the air. “He is out,” he added.

Asked for his position, he responded: “I have no idea.” He said only that he could see the Florida coast ahead of him.

“Maintain wings level and just try to follow the coast, either north or southbound,” the air traffic controller told him. “We’re trying to locate you.”

“I can’t even get my nav[igation] screen to turn on,” he said at one point. “It has all the information on it. You guys got any ideas on that?”

“I have no idea how to stop the airplane,” he added. “I don’t know how to do anything.”

Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller at Palm Beach International Airport, was on his break when a colleague came to alert him to the situation.

A longtime flight instructor with over 20 years in air traffic control, Mr Morgan had never flown the specific model – a single engine Cessna 208 – but was able to use a map of the aircraft’s cockpit to give instructions to the flier.

“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane. 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 told WPBF-TV.

In the recording, Mr Morgan is heard teaching the man to “push forward on the controls and descend at a very slow rate” as he approaches for landing.

“Before I knew it, he said, ‘I’m on the ground. How do I turn this thing off?'” Mr Morgan recalled.

The passenger and Mr Morgan then met on the runway, where they hugged and snapped a photo. But in his excitement, Mr Morgan never heard the man’s name, a reporter for WPBF told BBC News on Wednesday.

The name was not recorded in the archived radio exchange either.

“I felt like I was going to cry then, because I had so much adrenaline built up,” Mr Morgan told CNN. “It was an emotional moment. He said that he just wanted to get home to his pregnant wife… And that felt even better.”

“In my eyes, he was the hero,” he continued. “I was just doing my job.”

After the plane landed, Mr Morgan can be heard in the recording praising the heroic passenger to other pilots on the tarmac. “You just witnessed a couple of passengers land that plane,” he told another pilot waiting to take off. “Did you say the passengers landed the airplane?” the pilot responded. “Oh, my God. Great job.”

The Federal Aviation Administration said the plane was privately registered to an address in the state of Connecticut.

It had taken off around an hour earlier from Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.

The pilot was transported to hospital by Palm Beach County Fire Rescue. The pilot’s name and condition have not been released.

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