Today’s Illustration: A Passenger Becomes The Pilot

What:  A passenger aboard a King Air twin-engine aircraft made an emergency landing after the jet pilot went unconscious.  The passenger was able to land the aircraft through the ground crew instructions.
Passenger — Doug White was a passenger aboard the aircraft, age 56.
Pilot — retired jet pilot, Joe Cabuk, went unconscious

“White had his pilot’s license but had never flow as large of a twin-engine plane as that of King Air”
“[He]had no experience flying the faster, larger King Air”
“White got his pilot’s license in 1990, but said 18 years had passed until he recently started flying again.”

Where: Fort Meyers, Florida

Article Highlighted Quotations:  Passenger Safely Lands Plane After Pilot Dies

Doug White and his family had just enjoyed a smooth takeoff and were ascending through the clouds when the pilot guiding their twin-engine plane tilted his head back and made a guttural sound.

The retired jet pilot, Joe Cabuk, was unconscious. And though White had his pilot’s license, he had never flown a plane as large as this.

I need help.
“I need a King Air pilot to talk to.
“We’re in trouble,” he radioed.

Then he turned to his wife and two daughters: “You all start praying hard.” Behind him, his wife trembled. Sixteen-year-old Bailey cried. Eighteen-year-old Maggie threw up.

White, 56, landed the plane on his own about 30 minutes later, coaxed through the harrowing ordeal by air traffic controllers who described exactly how to bring the aircraft to safety. The pilot died, but White somehow managed.

When a controller asked whether he was on autopilot, White replied: “I’m in the good Lord’s hands flying this Niner Delta Whiskey,” giving the code for the aircraft.

White had logged about 150 hours recently flying a single-engine Cessna 172 but had no experience flying the faster, larger King Air. He declared an emergency to air traffic controllers — White already knew how to use the radio. On Sunday afternoon, he got his first lesson landing the larger craft.

They were on their way home from Marco Island, where they’d traveled after his brother died from a heart attack the week before. White owns the King Air plane and leases it out through his company, Archibald, La.-based White Equipment Leasing LLC.

White got his pilot’s license in 1990, but said 18 years had passed until he recently started flying again.

White had his wife try to remove the pilot from his seat — afraid that he’d slump down and hit the controls.

But the space was too small. His wife couldn’t remove him. They strapped him back in.

White knew they were supposed to stop at 10,000 feet, but he watched as they ascended thousands of feet higher.

Flying the Cessna, White said he’s never gone higher than 7,000 feet.

White tried to stay calm and listen to the air traffic controllers as they relayed instructions.

It was a focused fear,” he said. “And I was in some kind of a zone that I can’t explain.”

One of the air traffic controllers called a friend in Connecticut certified in flying the King Air.

He got out his flight checklists, manuals and cockpit layout sheets and issued instructions to the controller. The controller relayed the process to White.

At one point, White said he tried putting the autopilot back on, but it steered the plane north, as Cabuk had programmed in the flight’s destination in Jackson, Miss. They had planned on dropping White off there, where he’d left his truck, and have Cabuk continue on home to Louisiana with the rest of the family.

Flying by hand, White navigated the plane through the descent.

When I touch down, if I ever touch down, do I just kill the throttle or what?” he asked.

“That’s correct,” the controller replied. “When you touch down, slowly kill the throttle.”

They landed safety shortly after 2 p.m. Fire trucks and EMTs were waiting on ground.

“Looks good from here,” the controller said. “Good job.”

White said they tried for about 30 minutes to revive Cabuk, the pilot. He didn’t survive.

The medical examiner’s office has not yet determined his cause of death.

A day after the ordeal, White said he could never have done it without the help of the air traffic controllers.

“Heartfelt thanks,” he said. “They don’t make near enough money, don’t get near enough respect for what they do.”

Another Great Example:

Full PDF of Article Passenger Lands Plane — Various parts of the story below

Passenger Lands Plane

The hero passenger who landed a plane after his pilot fell unconscious mid-flight

The sun was setting on a glorious autumn day as the tiny aircraft headed for home.

On board the Cessna Skyhawk were John Wildey, a 77-year-old grandfather, and the pilot, a long-standing friend. Their regular joyrides in the skies above Lincolnshire were a highlight for John.

Although he had never piloted an aircraft he flew regularly with others on days out, often landing at an airfield for lunch. John was sitting alongside the pilot when his friend became ill.

The pilot was able to set the controls before losing consciousness.

To his horror, John realised that he was on his own.

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 John’s 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.

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.

“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.”

“I was lost. I couldn’t see the runway and didn’t know my angle of attack or speed. I thought I was never going to make it. I was cursing myself.”

He was forced to abort his first attempt, climbing rapidly at the last minute as it became obvious he had overshot.

Then it was decided to instruct him to land on the longer, better-lit, main runway despite a crosswind. An additional problem was that he was unable to turn on the cabin lights so he couldn’t see his instruments.

In the dark it was all too easy to become disorientated and there was a fear he could hit homes, a road or an oil refinery. As he tried to circle John allowed his speed to drop and went into a spin. All seemed lost.

John recalls: “I could see the airport lights going round and round. That was the worst time because I didn’t seem to be in control. I thought, ‘Oh God what do I do now?’”

But he stabilised the Cessna and is heard apologising to the tower for his earlier mishap and cracking jokes.

Twice more he made failed approaches. By then he had been at the controls for more than 90 minutes and there was a risk of running out of fuel. His throat was dry and he was becoming tired.

Then, using different coloured lights to line up, John approached for a fourth time flying at 80mph. The team guiding him decided that his descent was near perfect and gave the go-ahead for a landing.

He crossed a road in front of the runway and reached the point of no return, with the reassuring voice of the instructor in his earphones.

“You’re looking good,” John is told by Roy. “Come on, son.”

The fragile aircraft bounces several times as it hits the runway heavily, nose down, sparks fly and a video recording from the helicopter’s night-vision camera shows it veering wildly on to the grass.

There’s a breathless pause then congratulations ring out from the tower as the plane comes to a halt. There are handshakes all round.

“They did all the work. I just held the controls and did what they told me”

Key Biblical Words:

  • Life & Death
  • Salvation
  • Saved
  • Trouble
  • Others depending on you
  • Fear
  • Tests
  • Patience
  • Listening
  • Prayer
  • Instruction
  • Help / Helpfulness
  • Guidance
  • Trials

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It certainly won’t be easy, but I would be able to talk someone over a radio through setting up a capable 737 for an autoland (if there were enough time.)

The hard part would be for someone to find all the switches, levers and buttons required

Having done the setup of course bars and frequencies there only remain a few steps.

With the help of Air Traffic Control for positioning and a few dry runs of the sequence of things to follow I am convinced it will work.

Here are the steps after frequency and course bar setup and on ILS intercept heading with an appropriate altitude selected on Contol panel. Already set up are Autopilot ON with Auto Throttle ON (ALT HOLD, HDG and SPEED mode selected) and Max Autobrake set with speedbrake armed.

I would say something roughly like this to Person on a 737-800.

Speed at this stage should be 210kts. Slow down to this if not already by changing speed in window on (MCP) panel infront of you by turning second knob from left. The Autopilot will also manage the thrust from engines through the auto throttle to fly selected speed.


Press other Autopilot button to Arm Autoland

Select FLAPS lever to 5

Set speed 180 or so on MCP panel speed window.

Gear down

Wait for VOR/LOC letters in green on top of main screen (with the artificial horizon) and note aircraft banks and turns (onto final course for runway). Let me know if this does not happen.

Wait for GS in green on screen and let me know.

Select Flap 15

Speed 150 or so

After a few seconds select Flap 30

Speed 145 or so

Flap 40

Speed 140

Note Radio Altimeter call when it happens.

Note CMD And “Flare” armed (in white letters) on screen. Very important to let me know when it happens.

Then just wait. Aircraft will do this rest.

On touchdown do best to keep straight with foot pedals if necessary. Step left to go left and right for right.

Cut engines when stopped.


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“Landing a plane, especially a large airliner, is about doing the proper steps in the right order at the right time. If someone is there to give you those steps and you follow the instructions without panicking while communicating properly, it’s likely most people would be able to do it.”

“Yes, with the right coaching, inexperienced pilot has a chance at getting jet onto the ground.”
Eric Larsen – commercial pilot

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Max Sylvester, a trainee pilot in Australia, was forced to land a plane for the first time when his instructor passed out mid-flight from an apparent heart attack. He landed the jet safely with help from air traffic control. NBC’s Tom Costello reports for TODAY. 

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Passenger Lands Plane After Pilot Has Heart AttackSEP. 23, 1985 —

A passenger was forced to crash-land a single-engine Cessna Skyhawk near an old naval air base after the pilot of the craft suffered a fatal heart attack.

The plane was at an altitude of 2,500 feet Saturday when pilot Ronald Lange, 55, of Memphis, collapsed at the controls with his sister and brother-in-law, Barbara and Eugene McClendon, on board.

“I knew that I couldn’t help Ron, and I knew that I was going to get that plane on the ground and get my wife out,” Eugene McClendon said Sunday. McClendon said he had been talking with Lange about how to fly a plane before the pilot collapsed.

McClendon, 51, a retired policeman, said he felt no fear despite having never flown a plane before.

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