Flying and landing a plane is a remarkable job best left for trained personnel, in this case, pilots.
A passenger successfully flying and landing a plane sounds more like a Hollywood movie scene than a reality. However, there have been occasions where passengers needed to fly and land a plane due to an emergency.
Passengers are usually not trained to fly or land a plane, but a talk-down landing may become an option if the pilot becomes incapacitated while flying a plane, where radioed instruction assists from the ground or a nearby plane
Although there is no record to prove that a talk-down landing was ever required for a commercial aircraft; however, there have been a few incidents where qualified pilots traveling as passengers with a commercial airline have had to assist the pilot.
In this article, we list the top 5 times passengers flew a plane in history. The list is not in order of significance; instead, it is curated based on the most recent.
May 10, 2022: a passenger without the experience of flying a plane landed a plane at a Florida airport
Passenger Darren Harrison, an executive of an interior design company, landed a Cessna 208 plane flying from the Bahamas to Florida after the pilot became unwell.
Darren was one of the two passengers in the plane and, without any flying experience, successfully landed the aircraft with radio support from Robert Morgan, a part-time flight instructor.
The plane was already taking a nosedive following the pilot slumping and unable to control the aircraft before Darren took control of the plane. To Morgan, the landing was nothing short of a miracle and seemed like a movie. Morgan also credited Darren as his best student ever.
31st, August 2019: a 29-year-old student landed a plane on his first flight lesson after the pilot became unconscious
A two-seater Cessna 152 aircraft pilot lost consciousness during a flying lesson with his student. The student, Max Sylvester, an Australian, was barely an hour into the flight when he realized that his trainer had lost consciousness and that he was all alone by himself.
Max was having his first lesson in the Cessna 152 and third overall and hadn’t landed a plane previously.
He landed the plane successfully at the Jandakot Airport and was aided by practice approaches, Air Traffic Control (ATC) assistance, and a radio instructor.
October 2013: 77-year old passenger landed a Cessna 172 at Humberside Airport after the pilot became unwell
John Wildey, 77, had to rein and control the plane after the pilot became unwell mid-air. Though John had served in the air force, he didn’t operate on a flight crew.
John flew the aircraft for more than an hour and successfully landed under the instruction of ATC controllers, two flying instructors, and a Westland Sea King helicopter crew. John said he nearly veered off the runway while landing and knew his only hope was to take control of the plane after his pilot friend became unwell.
April 3, 2012: 80-year-old Helen Collins landed a two-engine Cessna 414 after her pilot husband became unconscious
Helen, who before 2012 had only flown single-engine planes many years earlier, had to step up and take control of the aircraft after she noticed that her husband had lost consciousness.
Though the plane was fast running out of gas and dealing with an engine sputtering, she could contact ATC and land the aircraft under instruction from ATC and a shadow plane.
According to her son Richard, Helen had stopped flying for about 30 years. It took her about 90 minutes to land the plane, and many have regarded her as a hero.
August 2000: Henry Anhalt landed a single-engine Piper Cherokee
Henry was flying on the single-engine aircraft with his wife and three children when he noticed that the pilot had collapsed over the controls. He had to step up and take over control of the plane.
With a radio talk-down from an airborne flight instructor, Henry successfully landed the plane; however, the aircraft was damaged on landing.
There are many other occasions throughout history where a passenger or any other untrained person has had to step up and take over controls of the plane following emergencies in the cockpit. A scary task but thankfully they can contact someone who can help them land the plane.