A Pilot Loses Consciousness Mid-Flight and a Passenger Has to Step In
Having been away for some time, Darren Harrison was finally returning home. He chose a small plane. It was almost empty–only one other passenger accompanied Darren.
Everything was going according to plan until, out of nowhere, the unthinkable happened. Suddenly Darren was sitting in front of the control panel with some difficult decisions ahead.
It was unexpected and unforeseen by anyone that the events that occurred on that plane would unfold as dramatically as they did. Darren, who was a Florida native, could not have predicted this.
He had jumped on the plane with no indication or knowledge that the flight would be packed with unexpected twists and turns. All he had wanted was to relax and return home to his loved ones after his holiday had come to an end.
Who is Darren?
Prior to the out-of-the-ordinary and dramatic events that occurred on the flight, Darren was enjoying a tranquil and peaceful holiday in the Bahamas. As an avid fisherman, he had spent most of his vacation out on a boat, indulging in his passion for fishing.
As someone who typically works as a flooring specialist for an interior company located in Florida, the vacation served as a refreshing and much-needed change of pace and environment for Darren. It’s always nice to be free from the daily grind.
Although he had left his work behind for a time, Darren was embarking on a new and thrilling chapter in his life. He and his partner, Britney, were eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child together. As Britney had just entered into her last trimester of pregnancy, the due date was fast approaching, and both Darren and Britney were filled with anticipation and excitement.
This new step in their lives was something that they had been eagerly awaiting and looking forward to. The birth of their first child would bring about a new set of joys and challenges for the couple to experience together.
End of holidays
Taking all this into consideration, one could say that at that point in time, things were going well for Darren in all aspects of his life. It seemed like everything was progressing positively and in the right direction for him.
Therefore, it is likely that he was feeling more than content and optimistic after his vacation. As it was time for Darren to leave the Bahamas and return home, he joined another passenger at a nearby airport and boarded the flight that would take him back to his home and family.
An old airplane model
The pair of travelers were not taking a standard jet for their journey home. Instead, they were flying on a Cessna 208. These planes have been around since the 1980s and have different models. Some are used for public flights, while armed forces worldwide also use some.
The Cessna 208 is known for its versatility and can be used for different purposes–from the transportation of passengers and cargo to aerial photography and even surveillance missions. It’s a small aircraft with a big reputation, and the pair were about to experience its comfort and reliability on their trip home.
Know your plane
The Cessna 208 is a relatively small aircraft that is powered by a single engine and a propeller. It can seat a maximum of 14 passengers. It can cover a distance of about 1,200 miles on a single tank of fuel and can reach a maximum speed of 210 mph.
Unlike commercial airliners, these planes can reach a maximum altitude of just 25,000 feet. This feature of flying at a lower altitude than most commercial jets provides passengers with a different flying experience.
Time to fly
As Darren and his fellow passenger settled into their seats, the pilot began getting ready for the upcoming flight, with the destination being Florida. After conducting the necessary pre-flight checks, the pilot activated the single-engine, and the plane took off into the Bahaman sky in May 2022.
However, neither Darren, the other passenger, nor the pilot had any idea of what would unfold during their journey. They were unaware of the unexpected event that was about to take place and the impact it would have on their lives.
Not a worry
Everything was going smoothly and according to plan at the beginning of the flight. Darren was relaxing in the area behind the pilot’s seat, gazing out at the clear blue sky. The expectant father had his feet propped up on the seat in front of him.
He was completely carefree and at ease, not having a worry in the world at that moment. The journey had begun on a peaceful and uneventful note. Darren was enjoying the sights and sounds of the flight, unaware of the events yet to come.
Turn of events
Unfortunately, the peaceful and tranquil atmosphere that Darren was experiencing soon changed into a most terrifying one. This is a scenario that many people fear when traveling by plane–the possibility of something happening to the pilot and the impact it could have. And the unexpecting Florida salesman was about to experience just that.
The thought of something happening to the pilot can be a daunting and frightening experience for any passenger, and unfortunately, Darren was about to face this reality.
Something is not right
While seated in the cockpit, the pilot began to fidget in his seat and spoke to Darren and the other passenger, “Guys, I gotta tell you. I don’t feel good.” This statement immediately caused panic.
Darren, who was also thinking about his pregnant wife, Britney, attempted to gather more information by asking, “What’s wrong?” He asked if it was something related to air sickness. The statement from the pilot caused a sense of unease and uncertainty, and Darren was understandably worried about the pilot’s well-being and the flight’s safety.
What was wrong?
Things were not simple. The pilot replied, “I got a headache, and I’m fuzzy. I just don’t feel right.” These were not the words that Darren or the other passenger wanted to hear from the person in charge of flying the plane. In an instant, Darren responded with urgency, “What do we need to do?”
However, the question was met with silence as the pilot was unable to give a response. This lack of response only increased the level of concern and uncertainty for the two passengers.
After expressing his worries, the captain suddenly collapsed in his seat. He was not moving anymore, and Darren and the other passenger were not sure if he was breathing.
In a larger plane with more crew members, there would likely have been a second-in-command present to handle the emergency. However, in this instance, Darren and the other passenger were left to manage the situation independently, as they were not on a larger plane with a more extensive crew.
There was a bit of luck in all this nerve-racking turn of events. The pilot has not gone head-first into the controls. Instead, he somehow remained in a seated position, probably because of the well-strapped seatbelt that was holding him.
Despite this small stroke of luck, Darren could still see how this was a very delicate situation, and they were far from being out of danger. So he decided to calm down and take things into his own hands. He went to take over from the pilot when he saw a terrifying sight out the window.
Looking out the window, Darren could see that the plane was nose-diving toward the blue sea. He could feel despair while the plane was going in circles, falling out of the sunny sky. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion, and even though it was scary, it was mesmerizing.
It looked like a scene straight out of Hollywood. It had everything, the speed, the thrill, the drama, and the beautiful scenery. But, as all this was going through Darren’s head, the reality of things brought him back.
Thoughts rushed through his mind. What was he supposed to do? Would his actions be helpful, or would they do more harm? It was definitely the time to make a decision. Fight or flight?
Is he supposed to accept his unfortunate fate and prepare for the impact into the water? Or will he try and figure out how to save his skin in the few seconds he has left? If only he had some piloting skills, but unfortunately, he was just a sales worker.
Time to act
There was always only one way of dealing with this situation for Darren. He had everything to live for, a beautiful wife who soon would give birth to their first child. He needed to preserve his happy life in order to protect them. There was no intention for him to meet his end then and there.
He quickly started moving towards the pilot’s seat. He knew that time was of the essence. Every second counts in this kind of moment and must be taken advantage of to survive.
Trusting his instincts
With great care, Darren moves the pilot further away from the controls. He takes the captain’s hand from the control stick and grabs it with confidence. It is now or never. He slowly moves it towards him and slightly to the right.
The instinct to move it that way comes from his previous trips to places like this. In his mind, he could see the pilot making these motions, and he tried to imitate them. It was almost like fishing, holding the rod steady and slowly moving it closer to his chest.
Aware of the dangers
Darren was well aware of the potential risks that came with maneuvering the aircraft. He knew that a sudden and forceful tug on the control stick could cause the engine to stall. Additionally, he had to be mindful of the aircraft’s speed and trajectory.
The thought of acting too quickly was a constant concern for Darren, as he knew that such a mistake could result in the wings being torn off the fuselage. He knew the importance of taking his time and being careful in his actions.
One step closer
The way Darren acted serves as an example of how to keep calm in stressful situations. Not anybody could take such a calculated action in such a tense moment. His steady hands and cautious movement stabilized the plane, but things were not over yet.
They were not even close to being safe yet, as the pilot was still not with them. Darren quickly asked for the help of the other passenger, and they moved the unconscious pilot away from his seat and closer to the rear of the plane.
Everything seemed to be under control. The pilot was on the floor, and even if he was not conscious, he was still breathing. And at the helm of the plane was Darren, who was carefully directing the aircraft straight forward.
As he was cruising along, knowing that his problems were not over yet, he could feel more beads of sweat forming on his forehead. Even if he was acting calmly, deep down inside, he was in panic mode. The panic took over when he saw the next problem he would have to solve.
Darren thought the next logical step would be to call for help. He would need to contact the air traffic control and get further instructions. Darren looked around, saw the pilot’s headset, and took it in his hands.
He put the headphones on and waited to hear something. However, there was complete silence. The only thing he could hear was the noisy plane. Why were the headphones not working? He looked around and immediately saw the problem. The cable was unraveled at the bottom and looked like it had not worked for some time.
As Darren was starting to lose hope, he heard something from the other passenger. He was holding a spare pair of headphones that he found under his seat. As fortune would have it, another pair of headphones was on board.
Darren gave a sigh of relief as his travel companion gave him this important piece of technology. He quickly put it on and made contact with Fort Pierce Tower–part of Florida’s Treasure Coast International Airport.
In a bit of a pickle
As soon as he heard someone’s voice, Darren told the Florida tower, “I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
The person on the other end was very practical and inquired straight away about the location of the small plane. Darren explained their difficult situation and gave details of what he had done so far. He was trying to keep calm, but this question was a head-scratcher.
Where were they?
Darren told the officer he was at a loss as to where they currently were. Although he could see the coast of Florida in front of him, he could still not determine their location. While the tower may have been unable to pinpoint the airplane’s exact location, the individuals working there could still offer invaluable assistance.
They had the ability to give important instructions on how to pilot the Cessna 208 properly. Their guidance could help to ensure that Darren could navigate and reach a destination safely.
On the ground in Fort Pierce, two officers were demonstrating exceptional leadership. Justin Boyle, the supervisor, and Christopher Flores, an air traffic controller, took charge of the situation and worked together to assist Darren.
They have recommended that Darren gradually decrease the altitude of the plane to allow them to locate the aircraft. The guidance provided by Justin and Christopher proved to be crucial in helping Darren navigate the situation and find a safe solution.
Darren complied with the advice Justin and Christopher provided, which resulted in a significant development. Again, luck was on their side. Joshua Somers, an air traffic control worker in Palm Beach, managed to detect the plane on radar.
The aircraft was located approximately 20 miles away from Boca Raton Airport. Although this was a positive step forward, Darren’s situation was not yet fully resolved. Despite the identification of the plane’s location, there were still challenges that needed to be overcome to ensure a safe landing.
Flight instructor to the rescue
At this point in the story, Fort Pierce Tower connected Darren with the Palm Beach County air traffic control team. The team then contacted a potential resource for assistance, a certified flying instructor by the name of Robert Morgan.
Everything that could be done needed to be done. Due to the urgency of the situation, Mr. Morgan had to be interrupted from his break in order to participate in the group’s efforts.
As a seasoned professional with ample experience working with Cessna planes, it’s no surprise that Robert was called upon to assist in this unusual situation. However, despite his extensive background with these types of aircraft, he faced one challenge.
He was unfamiliar with the specific model that Darren was currently piloting. Nevertheless, he knew more than anybody present about the Cessna planes. Despite this lack of familiarity, Robert began to provide guidance and instruction.
Robert’s goal was to guide Darren safely to Palm Beach International Airport. Although Boca Raton was the closest option to Darren’s current location, the runway was not suitable for the type of plane he was flying.
So, Robert started to give clear and precise instructions to Darren on the heading he should take to reach the desired airport. It was not too far, so spirits were high. Will Darren manage to get to the airport without any further complications? Only time will tell.
Safe and sound
After carefully following Robert’s guidance, Darren finally arrived at the airstrip. Robert provided him with detailed instructions on how to land the Cessna 208 safely. These instructions proved to be invaluable, as Darren successfully completed the landing, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds.
It was challenging, but they accomplished the task without incident with Robert’s expertise and Darren’s compliance. When they touched down on the runway smoothly, both Darren and Robert let out a sigh of relief. Everything that happened had happened for a reason.
Last minute scares
For Robert, the final moments of the incident proved to be the most nerve-wracking part of his involvement. During this crucial stage, the aircraft momentarily vanished from his tracking equipment, causing him great worry.
He went on further to discuss this incident in an interview with the Federal Aviation Administration via the website Medium in May 2022, where he gave additional insight into his thoughts and emotions during this time. The incident had a great impact on him as a flying instructor, and the possibility of the plane disappearing was his worst fear.
Prepare for landing
According to Robert, the moment when the small plane disappeared from his equipment was a very stressful one. He stated he was quite unsure of how to proceed at that moment. He remembered thinking, “Uh-oh, what do I do now?”
He immediately contacted Darren, asking him if he could still hear him. To his great relief, Darren responded, “I’m on the ground now. What do you want me to do?” Even in that stressful moment, Darren remained calm and even had a suggestion on what steps to take next.
Calm under pressure
During an interview with the television program Today in May 2022, Darren shared his experience, saying, to his surprise, he felt at ease while landing the plane. He made contact with Robert and said, “Hey, I’m feeling pretty confident in the brakes and everything. Do you guys want me to turn off the runway so I can clear this thing out?”
It was an impressive demonstration of his composure and quick thinking. Despite the unexpected situation and lack of familiarity with the specific aircraft, he was able to safely land the plane and make a smart decision to clear the runway.
Regarding the aftermath of the incident, Darren went on to confess that after the plane had safely landed, he thanked Robert for his guidance and support, then he placed the headset on the dashboard. At that moment, he said the most heartfelt prayer of his life.
As the emotions began to flood in, the last and most powerful part of his prayer was for the pilot of the Cessna 208. He knew that the pilot’s condition was serious, and it was a very difficult moment for him.
The pilot’s fate
Following the landing in Florida, the captain of the Cessna 208 aircraft was transported to a nearby medical facility. The initial diagnosis was extremely dire, with doctors believing that the pilot would not see another day.
However, against all odds, the pilot was able to make a miraculous recovery. Despite the initial bleak diagnosis, he was expected to be discharged from the medical facility later that same month, much to the surprise and relief of everyone involved.
Not making it was not an option
During the interview with Today, Darren also talked about not wanting to communicate with his wife, Britney, until the aircraft had safely landed. He stated many people had asked him why he didn’t speak to his wife until the plane was grounded.
People wondered if he didn’t call because he thought he wouldn’t make it. But, in his mind, he knew that was not going to happen. He was confident in his ability to land the plane safely and didn’t want to be distracted by anything else.
So for Darren, it was never going to be “goodbye.” He remarked that “The thought never crossed my mind to call and tell my wife, ‘Bye,’” Darren continued by saying, “[Hearing Britney’s voice] was one of the biggest reliefs because I was safe [when we spoke].”
Darren’s confidence kept him going. He only looked toward the future with Britney and their baby on the way. In doing so, he also kept Britney from the stress and worry of being informed of the situation.
In the end
Robert, the flying instructor, offered his perspective on the incident. He said when he looks back on it, he sees it as just doing his job. However, it was a more intense and elevated situation than he had ever experienced.
Robert’s statement highlights the importance of always being ready for anything and that sometimes, the job requires more than just the routine. He was able to perform and rise to the occasion and helped Darren to land the plane safely.
Some things can’t be explained
Darren believed that his survival in that situation was partly due to a higher power. He attributed it all to divine intervention.
He commented that he has frequently been asked how the airplane managed to stay together and how he managed to pull out of the situation. To these questions, he can only respond by saying, “The hand of God was on that plane. There’s no other explanation for it.”