Danny Johnston/AP
A Beechcraft King Air B-200 airplane.

Passenger Lands Airplane After Pilot Dies During Flight

April 14, 2009 12:07 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
A pilot’s death in the air didn’t stop another passenger, who happened to be a pilot, from successfully landing a plane he wasn’t certified to fly.

Events Unfold in Air

The Beechcraft King Air B200 plane was headed from Florida to Mississippi on April 12 when pilot Joe Cabuk died, according to Huliq News.

Doug White, who assumed control of the aircraft, has been licensed to fly single-engine planes, but is not certified to operate the twin-engine aircraft.

An air traffic controller called a friend from Connecticut who was familiar with the aircraft and could help talk the pilot down to the ground.
“The passenger was a certified pilot, but not in this plane, so he needed this help,” Alex Caldwell, spokeswoman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, told The News-Press. “It’s not the like driving a Ford Focus and an F-150. There’s a big difference with planes.”

Kathleen Bergen, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Atlanta, said White “knew all the right questions to ask and all the radio terminology.”

“We’ve had situations where passengers land airplanes before, but this is the first time I actually heard a controller actually tell the passenger to push this button and turn this knob,” Steve Wallace, president of the National Air Traffic Controllers in Miami noted.

The rest of the passengers on the plane were safe, but Cabuk died before the landing.

Cases like this one don’t happen often. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association issues a report on “accident trends and factors” each year based on National Transportation Safety Board reports on aircraft weighing less than 12,500 pounds, according to CNN. Those airplanes are smaller than the King Air airplane, but the most recent review from 2007 indicated that out of approximately 15 million to 20 million flights, pilots became incapacitated just six times.

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Related Topic: More passengers landing airplanes

In 2005, a passenger crash-landed a plane at a North Las Vegas Airport after the pilot experienced a fatal heart attack. The landing wasn’t easy for the individual, who almost hit some apartments during the attempt. When the plane touched down, its wheels broke and it skidded to a stop, but didn’t catch fire, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Another Florida airplane passenger was forced to land a plane in 2000 after the pilot lost consciousness. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal explained that a flight instructor helped the man, who was returning home from a church retreat with his family, fly and land the plane.

Just in 2008, a captain of an Air Canada flight asked for passengers to help him land his airplane after his copilot became “confused and disoriented” and was “forcibly removed from the cockpit,” according to The Irish Times. No pilots were on the passenger list, but a flight attendant with a commercial license was able to help with the remainder of the flight.

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