We’ve all been in situations where we’ve been forced to completely work our way through a task when we haven’t a clue what we’re doing.
Few of us have had it as bad as Darren Harrison, who was left to his own devices to save his skin after the pilot on his flight suffered a medical emergency thousands of feet in the air.
You can listen to stomach-churning footage of Harrison telling air traffic control about his situation below:
In May last year, Harrison was enjoying a flight in a single-engine Cessna 208 plane accompanied by pilot Ken Allen, who was 64 at the time, and fellow passenger Russ Franck, then 70.
After takeoff, Allen told the others: “Guys, I gotta tell you, I don’t feel right. I’ve got a headache, and everything is fuzzy.”
That’s probably the last thing you want to hear from your pilot, and moments later, Allen was unconscious.
Speaking to People, Harrison explained he had to act fast as the plane began to nosedive, dropping 3,600 feet in 16 seconds.
Fortunately, while having no background in flying, Harrison did like to ask pilots of small aircraft technical questions.
This is how he knew which stick to pull to get the plane to level out of the nosedive – and that if he pulled it too hard ‘the wings would rip off the plane or the motor would stall’. Yikes.
Next, he used an old-school compass to get the plane pointing back in the right direction to get to their destination of Florida.
Harrison had done a great job so far, I think you’ll agree, but he still had to land the thing.
For that, he was going to need some help from folks who actually knew what they were doing.
He said: “I realized nobody else in the world knew what was going on.
“‘I gotta figure out how to tell somebody,’ I thought. But I kept hitting the wrong button on the radio. It took me 20 minutes before I figured out how to get it working.”
When he got the radio working, he told air traffic control: “I’ve got a serious situation here. My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
A dispatcher responded: “Roger. What’s your position?” to which Harrison replied: “I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.”
Robert Morgan was the unlucky air traffic controller who had to coach Harrison in real-time how to land the plane.
He recalls his boss telling him: “We’ve got a plane with an unconscious pilot and the passenger is flying it. Since you’re a flight instructor, we need you to try and help him land.”
Certainly sounds like a stressful day at work, that’s for sure.
The hardest part was still to come, as Morgan had to walk Harrison through landing the plane.
Harrison said: “I pictured the wheels blowing off the plane or flipping upside down into a ditch.”
Despite his fears, Harrison landed the aircraft safely at Palm Beach International Airport. Once he turned the engine off, he felt overwhelmed with relief.
He said: “I just lost it. I started praying this prayer of thanks for letting us land safely.”
Paramedics and airport staff were quickly on the scene and rushed Allen to hospital.
It turned out he had a tear in his aorta, but he recovered after surgery.
Thanks to Harrison keeping his cool, it was a happy ending for a situation that could easily have turned tragic.
WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW: