It feels like this kind of thing happens in the movies all the time: A pilot falls ill and, then, it’s up to a passenger to land the plane.
Last night in Britain’s Humberside airport, this happened for real on a small aircraft carrying two friends. As The Independent tells the story, John Wildey had to take control of a Cessna 172 after his friend and pilot got sick and became unresponsive.
The Independent reports that Wildey issued a mayday and the control tower looked for an aviation teacher to guide Wildey through a landing:
“The mid-air drama sparked a major rescue operation as an RAF helicopter was scrambled to help bring the novice safely into Humberside airport near Grimsby, north Lincolnshire on Tuesday night without lights. …
“Roy Murray, who took part in the extraordinary rescue, said he felt “satisfied but sad” after learning that the pilot had later died. “He did a beautiful landing. I wouldn’t be frightened to fly with him,” Mr Murray said.
“But although the passenger admitted to having a dry mouth he remained calm, bringing the Cessna 172 in at optimum speed and altitude after completing three practice circuits of the airport. “It was tense at times, especially the last mile or so,” said Mr Murray.”
Wildey told the BBC that he was uncertain of what would happen and that he “hadn’t a clue what to do to get down.”
“I’ve never flown a plane before and I know you bring back the controls but I didn’t bring them back hard enough,” Wildey said. “So really I was nose down rather than anything else. Then we touched and it was a right bump – two or three bumps. I suppose it was a controlled crash really.”