Passenger In Control

13 May 22 10 Comments

Everyone is talking about the passenger who safely landed a Cessna 208 Caravan at Palm Beach International Airport after the pilot slumped over the controls, incapacitated.

The Cessna Caravan is a single-engine high-wing aircraft first produced in 1984. This one, registration N333LD, was recently listed as for sale on, which gives us a bit of added detail.

PRICE REDUCED. Call for Details: Just in time for spring/summer float flying, Wipaire is happy to present this 2011 Executive equipped Cessna 208 amphibian, Garmin G1000 Suite w/ the GFC 700 Auto Pilot, Wipline 8000 amphibious floats, Big Sky Executive Interior by Capital, beautiful paint and interior, fresh annual inspection!

VASAviation was quick off the mark with a YouTube video so we can listen to the passenger interacting with ATC from the start of the emergency until landing.

It was about forty minutes from the first panicked call to ATC to the successful landing of the Cessna Caravan.

I have to admit, when I first listened to the radio calls from the passenger, I believed he must have had some piloting experience. He appeared to understand the request to squawk 7700 and I was pretty sure he clearly enunciated niner instead of nine.

However, the FAA magazine Cleared for Takeoff has published an excellent article which confirms that neither passenger had any flying experience.

Miracle in the Air: Air Traffic Controllers Guide Passenger to Land Plane Safely

The passengers had no flying experience, and what unfolded thereafter was truly remarkable thanks to a team of air traffic controllers.

At that point, one of the passengers jumped into action. He pulled the aircraft out of the nosedive and called Fort Pierce Tower at Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce, Fla., to let them know the pilot was incapacitated, and that he had no flying experience.

Meanwhile, BBC radio presenter Oliver Wright started work on a story exploring how it might have happened in the UK …only to find himself put into the pilot’s seat.

How easy is it to land a plane with no flying experience?

Wow. How would I cope in that situation? I expected the closest I would come to finding out would be by talking to pilots at the Phoenix Flight Training in Cumbernauld for BBC Radio Scotland.

But the instructors there had other plans.

When I arrived, they suggested we recreate that scenario – and send me up in the air. An instructor would be with me, but he would “play dead” and I would be guided in by another instructor in the tower.

It’s a great read.

The West Palm Beach station WPBF 25 News managed a scoop with the exclusive video of the landing at Palm Beach International Airport. They’ve blocked their website in Europe but luckily the video has also been posted to YouTube:

Meanwhile, local media has confirmed that the pilot, by which I mean the licensed one, is still in hospital but stabilised.

I love a happy ending.

PS: I’m recovering from COVID so keep your mask on around Fear of Landing for the next week or so.


  • That’s probably going to be award-worthy.

    I was surprised to not hear ATC inquire about fuel.

    I wish you a good recovery, Sylvia!

  • Sylvia, get better soon !

    I too love a story with a happy ending, but one thing nags me:
    It may become common knowledge that no real experience is required to fly aircraft (and land safely). Airlines may be tempted to send their aircraft into the sky without pilots, just with anyone who is willing to “give it a try”.
    Maybe they can ask passengers to volunteer?
    In order to prevent another 9-11, all that would be required is a background check. And a quick briefing: “Push these levers forward, here is the brake, you release it and when that thinghy here, the ASI, shows 120, you just pull back on the steering wheel!”
    Oh, it looks like flying as a profession is doomed !
    When I started, back in the ‘sixties, Cessna issued a metal clip that could be attached to clothing. It said: “If I can fly, YOU can fly!”
    Seriously,(or tongue-in-cheek?) this proves it.
    Of course, in order to fly safely under a large and varied set of circumstances, it still will be necessary to train cockpit crew.

  • I’m scratching my head and wondering about the definition of “no flight experience”. My flight experience amounts to about 30 minutes, while my flight simulator experience is in the thousands of hours. But my first and the strongest impression when I took controls of a real plane was “wow, this is so much easier than in the simulator!”

    The “simulator” being a relatively simple PC game, not a real simulator.

    • I think part of the problem is the trim. In a real plane, the trim works by essentially moving the centre point of the yolk or joystick. When you move the trim, the yolk stays where you put trimmed it to.

      In a home simulator, the trim works by changing the length the control cables, so you have to keep re-adjusting the centre point by yourself to keep up. I don’t play my home simulator as much as I used to because the trim is so bad, I’ve never gotten used to it.

  • Thanks for the great article, and the many informative links, audio, etc. Please get well soon Sylvia!!

  • This is every Microsoft Flight Simulator pilot’s dream! I’m so jealous! :p

  • The amazing thing to me is how he figured out the radio to start with. The panel of today’s airplane is much more complex than a 1960s Sony 6 transistor radio.

    Once he got the pilot’s weight off the yoke, the plane would return to the attitude it was trimmed out for. That would prevent them from spinning into the sea but it would not land the plane.

    When I met my wife, I was flying a Mooney everywhere. She was nervous about what would happen to her if I had a Heart attack with her and her son in the aircraft.

    I talked her through 3 landings and none broke the plane.

    I was in the left seat.
    She did not have to sort out the radios.
    We did it at an uncontrolled county airport.
    My hands were close to the Yoke and Engine controls.
    I gave her the plane with full prop and mixture at 2000’AGL and 120KTS.

    Most important, I did not need a seatbelt, the Pucker Factor keep me well attached to the seat.

    It did the trick, she never again worried about, “what if?”

    And she never touched the Yoke again although I offered to pay for her flight lessons.

  • The amazing thing to me is how he figured out the radio to start with.

    And we finally have an answer to this. Update in today’s post!

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