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The Hero Passenger Who Landed a Plane after His Pilot Fell Unconscious Mid-Flight
The Hero Passenger Who Landed a Plane after His Pilot Fell Unconscious
JOHN WILDEY had never flown an aircraft before but when his pilot friend fell ill he knew his only hope was to take charge of the controls himself if he wanted to survive
By Adrian Lee
PUBLISHED: 00:01, Wed, Mar 26, 2014
A shorter URL for the above link:
Wed had a good flight that day, says John, whose love of aircraft stems from his years in an RAF desk job.
We spent the time picking out landmarks, pootling around and enjoying ourselves. Cruising at 1,500ft, their destination was Sandtoft Airfield, near Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, where they were scheduled to land at 7pm.
When the pilot became ill at first it seemed there was nothing to worry about and he even joked about opening the door of the aircraft, which has dual controls, so he was not sick on Johns trousers.
However, it quickly became obvious that this was an emergency.
John recalls: He suddenly said, Take control John. He threw his head back.
I thought he had fainted. I asked, Are you all right mate? and nudged him a few times, thinking he would come round.
Nothing. I felt for a pulse but there was nothing. He was cold and clammy.
I just thought, What do I do now? I pressed the button to speak to air traffic controllers and called, Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. It was then I realised I was going to have to try to fly the plane.
In his first message to the tower John sounds remarkably calm.
He is heard saying: I am a passenger. My pilot seems to be unconscious. I am not a pilot.
John had taken a passing interest in the instrument dials of the Cessna during his previous flights and was able to give his height but had no idea of his speed.
Asked by the controllers if he has ever flown before he replies: Negative.
His only way of handling the aircraft was using the steering stick, for direction and altitude, and throttle to vary speed.
He had to learn quickly if he was to stand a chance of getting down alive.
However John Cameron, the first air traffic controller to speak to John, says: This guy was in trouble. Worst case scenario was a crash. His chances of landing safely and walking away were possibly no more than 30 per cent.
He tried to keep John calm and focus on simple tasks.
John was able to circle the small airfield but the decision was taken to divert him 20 miles to the larger Humberside Airport, between Grimsby and Hull, which also has fire trucks.
All other flights were diverted and a Sea King search and rescue helicopter was scrambled from RAF Leconfield. Meanwhile, flying instructor Roy Murray was contacted and rushed by road to the airport to talk John down.
Fortunately, although the light was fading fast, the weather was fine and John could see the Humber Bridge, allowing him to change course and follow a main road to the landing strip.
I knew I had to stay as calm as possible otherwise I would lose everything. I wanted to live. If I panicked I was going to hit the deck.
A minor runway was chosen, allowing John to fly into the wind to cushion his landing, and he began his descent at 6.56pm, some 40 minutes after taking control.
The complete article may be read at the URL above.
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