Instructor Unconscious During Student Flight

20 Nov 20 8 Comments

This is a happy-ending story of an Australian student suddenly finding himself in command of the training aircraft. He had less than three hours flying experience and this was his first time in a Cessna 152, a single-engine light aircraft popular with flight schools for training. That day, his instructor took him flying in the local area to practise climbs for half an hour.

On the way back to Jandakot airfield, the instructor had a seizure and lost consciousness. The student immediately contacted Jandakot tower to declare an emergency.

VAS Aviation has posted the audio files of the incident in two videos which are well worth a listen.

Part one:

Part two:

ATC bring in an instructor to help talk the student down. But it is noticeable that once the traffic is cleared and the student is visual with the airfield, the controller takes back over. I can’t help but think that he is a pilot himself.

MM Aviation at Jandakot heard the situation on the radio and ran out to a hill to film the inbound aircraft. The video is a bit shaky but as the person behind MM Aviation pointed out, he hardly had the opportunity to get a tripod or prepare.

The Landing

The controller does an outstanding job supporting the student and helping him to keep calm. I love how proud he sounds at the end when the student successfully lands the 152.

The instructor on the aircraft discovered that he had a benign brain tumour which caused him to lose conciousness. WAtoday report that the tumour has been removed successfully but it is unclear if the instructor will be able to fly again.

I was looking at some of the photos I’ve taken from the air and getting a bit emotional looking at them realising that they might be the last ones that I ever take.

Meanwhile, the student is continuing his pilot training. I hope that the rest of his flying turns out to be somewhat less exciting.

The ATSB has not done an investigation but did publish an Occurrence Brief to share the incident. The conclusion echoes my thoughts:

At all times, communication between ATC and the student was concise, informative and positive.

But then, I’m a sucker for a happy ending.


  • Well, if I ever were to find myself in an aircraft during an emergency I would not mind if Mr. Sylvester had made it to an airline job and was the captain. Even better if it were handled by the same controller who talked him down. Superb airmanship in a very stressful situation, great work by the air traffic controller and an outcome that can be ascribed to great teamwork. Just amazing.
    And, to stay on the positive side:
    We know someone who made it to be a captain with Ryanair. He was grounded because of a brain tumour but believe it or not, after successful treatment he eventually returned to flying.
    Thumbs up !

  • Man. That was stressful to listen to.

    I remember the first time watching the landing in a friend’s Piper. I though I knew a little about flying, but I remember thinking on final “that runway doesn’t look at all like I expected” – it felt like we were way too low and slow, and then we were way too high.

    After about the second or third time it clicked, but if I’d tried to land before that, I would have been in a sweat.

  • In almost 60 years of flying, this is as good as it gets.

    Calm, cool, professional. I’ve seen high time pilots loose it under less strenuous conditions.

    The ATC guy must have a PhD in Physiology. Every word perfectly chosen and delivered with the exact correct tone.

    All I can say is, “Good on you Mates”!

  • Well done all the way around.
    My neighbor has a condition where she has seizures and sometimes passes out, but she keep driving! How is it that this trainer is allowed to fly with his condition? Was this the first time he had a seizure? Something seems a little off with that.
    But a very happy ending for all, great professionalism, it’s nice to see that.

    • Based on the follow-up news report, the seizure was his first and the first sign he had that something was wrong (a benign brain tumour).

  • Mike, unless I missed something, I think that the instructor had an undiagnosed condition and has not passed out previously.
    And I want to add again that the ATC controller did an absolutely brilliant job, but so did the student. Yes, I am repeating myself here but I am still in awe of these two guys.

  • Igeaux, sorry for changing the subject but I notice that you have been flying for nearly 60 years. Another reason to take a bow? I took my first flying lessons in 1965, soloed on a Piper Cub (after nearly killing my instructor, who sent me off with a “You are too dangerous, I don’t want to fly with you any more”. The send-off was not, as I feared, an untimely end to my flying but on my first solo. My flying finally ended in early 2009 on a converted C 500, called a “Stallion”. My last landing was with the owner, who was in the right-hand seat shouting in my ear: “Don’t f…k this one up!”. Of course, I didn’t. My very last landing was “as smooth as a baby’s bottom”. The reason for his agitation was a 25 kts crosswind on a narrow and short runway. So I come to about 44 years. Respectable, but nowhere near your nearly 60! I salute you!

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