The halls of Motor1.com are filled with aviation fans, including your humble author who has a bit of flight experience behind the yoke of light aircraft. The Cessna 208 isn't a multi-engine jumbo jet, but with seating for over a dozen passengers, it's a common commuter aircraft far removed from a 150 or 172 trainer. So when we heard that a passenger landed one safely after the pilot passed out, we were impressed.
When we learned that the passenger had absolutely zero flight experience, it was a story we simply had to share here.
On May 10 at around noon local time in Florida, air traffic controllers received a transmission from Darren Harrison. He was one of two passengers on a Cessna 208 returning from a fishing trip when the pilot suffered a medical emergency. Describing a "serious situation," Harrison said the pilot was incoherent and that he had no idea how to fly the airplane. Fortunately, air traffic controller Robert Morgan was working that day at nearby Palm Beach International Airport, and he's also a certified flight instructor. Between Morgan's instruction and Harrison remaining calm, he piloted the 208 to an insanely good landing.
Speaking to Today in the above video, Harrison talked about staying calm during the process, saying there simply wasn't time to panic.
"Either you do what you have to do to control the situation, or you're going to die. And that's what I did," said Harrison in the interview.
It sounds simple enough, and some might be lulled to thinking it's rather easy to land a smaller single-engine aircraft like the 208 Caravan. It's not – even on small trainer aircraft the pilot has fuel mixture settings, throttle settings, flap settings, and radios to manage. The 208 also has propeller settings and more complex hardware, and then you still have to actually fly the aircraft, keeping an eye on forward speed, vertical speed, altitude, bank angle, yaw, and obstacles outside the aircraft as you near the ground.
The flare – the point just before touchdown where the pilot pulls the aircraft back to level the decent – is something that takes practice to get right. Flare too early and you'll float above the ground until you run out of runway or stall, slamming to the ground. Flare too late and you'll go directly to the slamming part. The video at the top of the article shows Harrison got it just about right, landing a bit hard but hey, even seasoned pros have an occasional rough landing. Considering this is his absolute first attempt, Harrison's effort is nothing short of extraordinary.
The story has an extra-happy ending, too. The pilot who suffered the medical emergency is reportedly in stable condition. As for Harrison, we don't know if he'll take up flight lessons after this experience but if there was ever a case of natural talent being caught on camera, this could be the best we've ever seen.