(Top) The Cessna after landing at Humberside and (below) the controls on the Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP which confronted the passenger with no experience of flying
London, Oct. 9: A passenger with no flying experience was hailed as a “hero” when he managed to land an aircraft in the dark — at the fourth attempt — after its pilot collapsed and died in the cockpit.
Before falling ill, the pilot managed to put out a “May Day” distress call at 6.25pm, triggering an emergency last night at Humberside airport near Grimsby, north Lincolnshire.
It is believed that the two men had flown to Skegness and were returning to Sandtoft, 40km away from Humberside, when the emergency occurred.
Air traffic controllers summoned an experienced flying instructor, Roy Murray, who told the passenger to remain calm while he talked him through the unfamiliar knobs and dials on the instrument panel of the Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP.
As an RAF Sea King helicopter was scrambled to reassure the passenger — named only as “John” — that he was not alone in the sky, Murray began the task of telling what to do.
Murray said that as the Cessna circled the airport, “I kept watching him and saying, ‘pull him back, pull him back, pull the levers back, whatever you can see pull back, hold it back’. If you land with your nose wheel down you can take the nose wheel off and then you can get all sorts of problems, especially with it being dark. You hit one of the landing lights, you get a fuel lack...”
Murray did not complete the sentence. “‘Pull him back, pull him back,’ I was telling him, till he came to a stop.”
Murray was called at his home near Grimsby at 6.25pm and rushed to the tower at the airport, where the decision was taken to use the main runway which was “lit up like a Christmas tree” as it was getting dark.
“I took him round three times,” the instructor said, “which were reasonable but not good enough to land. Then, on the fourth, he made a nice landing.” Murray, who is chief instructor at the Frank Morgan School of Flying, said he had never heard of an incident like this in the UK.
There were handshakes but no cheers when the plane touched down. “It was tense at times, especially the last mile or so. We couldn’t see any lights on him. It was just a silhouette in the dark. We just had to judge he was the right height and the right speed, which he was. All due respect.”
Stuart Sykes, who saw the aircraft land, said: “It came down with a bump, a bump, a bump, hit the front end down, I heard some crashing and come to a halt.”
That was at 7.30pm.Richard Tomlinson, a friend of the pilot and his passenger, described the passenger as “nothing short of a hero”.
The passenger and air traffic controllers were praised by David Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flightglobal.com. “They did really well to get him down, they really did,” said Learmount.
He went on: “A guy with no flying experience would have found flying a light aircraft utterly different from driving a car. You can’t fly slower than 60mph (96kmph) without falling out of the sky.
They would have had to direct the guy’s eyes to the instruments. They would have said to him something like, ‘You see that instrument on the left, can you tell me what it’s reading?’”