Air Traffic Controller Speaks Out After Helping Passenger Land Plane: ' I Was Just Doing My Job'

A passenger of a single engine plane took over after the pilot became "unconscious" on a flight Tuesday afternoon

The air traffic controller who helped a passenger safely land a plane on Tuesday after its pilot passed out is opening up about the surreal experience.

In an interview with the Federal Aviation Administration published on Medium, Robert Morgan — a certified flight instructor working at the Palm Beach air traffic facility — spoke out about the headline-making incident, revealing that despite the heightened nature of the experience, it was ultimately business as usual.

"At the end of the day, I feel like I was just doing my job," Morgan said. "But it was just on a higher level than you ever thought you had to do it."

Morgan was on his break when lead air traffic controller Gregory Battani called, asking for his expertise.

A pilot of a single-engine Cessna 208 plane flying to Florida from the Bahamas had told his two passengers on board that he was feeling ill before passing out, falling against the controls and "putting the aircraft into a nosedive and sharp turn," according to the FAA.

Jumping into action, a passenger — identified by Today as passenger Darren Harrison — climbed into the front seat of the plane, removed the pilot, and helped steady the aircraft. He then radioed Fort Pierce Tower at Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce, Florida, to let controllers know the pilot was incapacitated and that he had no flying experience.

Airport Runway
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"I've got a serious situation here," the passenger said, according to audio obtained by NBC News. "My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane."

Asked by dispatcher of the plane's position, the passenger said, "I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea."

From there, the dispatcher began walking the passenger through how to navigate the skies and fly the plane. According to the FAA, controller Christopher "Chip" Flores and operational supervisor Justin Boyle "instructed the man to fly straight ahead and to start a gradual descent allowing time for air traffic control to locate the aircraft." Joshua Somers, operations supervisor at Palm Beach air traffic control facility, helped track the flight, identifying it approximately 20 miles from Boca Raton Airport over the Atlantic Airport.

The tower eventually connected Harrison to air traffic controllers in Palm Beach County, who then contacted Morgan, who had experience piloting a Cessna aircraft (though not that model). Morgan signed on to guide the novice pilot to Palm Beach Airport.

Morgan told the FAA at first that the inexperienced pilot was only able to give him the altitude of the plane. A second passenger jumped in to help find the plane's air speed.

The air traffic controller offered Harrison "clear, short directions on how to fly," the FAA said. To assure Harrison knew where he was going, Morgan confirmed the passenger understood each instruction before moving on.

Air Traffic Controller Speaks Out After Helping Passenger Land Plane When Pilot Passes out

Harrison was led to Palm Beach International Airport, which had a longer runway and was less congested than the Boca Raton airport despite it being closer.

Palm Beach Tower's entire air traffic control team jumped in to help. "We've never had anything like that…I felt like I was in a movie," Morgan told the FAA. "Everybody wanted to participate and came out of the offices to assist in any kind of way."

Departures were stopped, holding patterns for arriving aircrafts put into place, emergency responders called, and most importantly, the runway cleared. Air traffic manager Ryan Warren even printed a photo of the Cessna 208 cockpit for Morgan's reference.

As Harrison approached the runway, Morgan explained what the aircraft would look like as the plane descended, how to brake, adjust levers, and "how to keep the nose barely off the ground until the main gear touchdown."

"I was 99 percent sure the breaks were going to be the same," Morgan said in a corresponding video with the FAA. "Usually the breaks are on the top of the rudder pedals and you just put pressure on the top of the pedal and it would come to a stop when you're on the runway. So, I kinda gave him a short lesson on that on the way in just to let him know what to expect."

According to Morgan, Harrison remained "calm all the way in" — even when the plane was no longer visible on Morgan's radar.

"I was kinda like 'Uh oh, what do I do now?' so I'm just like 'Hey, I don't see you anymore on my radar, I just want to make sure you're still there, can you still hear me?," Morgan recalled. "Before I knew it, he said 'I'm on the ground now, what do you want me to do?' "

The Air Traffic Controller and the pilot

The plane successfully landed on the runway around 12:27 p.m., the FAA said.

According to a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office's incident report obtained by PEOPLE, EMS was then sent to the aircraft. One person had been taken into the hospital in connection to the incident. The person's condition was not immediately known.

"We are incredibly proud of the heroism shown by all parties involved in yesterday's incident ending at PBI," said Palm Beach County Department of Airports Spokesperson, Lacy Larson in a statement to PEOPLE Wednesday. "We are grateful for the outcome and wish everyone the best."

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