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The heroic passenger who landed a single-engine plane in Florida after the pilot fell unconscious has described how he sprang into action as the plane started nosediving.
In a preview for an exclusive interview with the Today Show, Darren Harrison, 39, tells host Savannah Guthrie how he knew he had to do something if he wanted to see his wife, Brittney – who is seven months pregnant with their first child – again.
He said the flight last Tuesday started out like any other flight – and he even took a picture with his feet up on the seat across from him.
But a short while later, the pilot came on the speaker saying: ‘Guys, I gotta tell you, I don’t feel good.’
‘I’ve got a headache, and I just don’t feel right.’
Soon, he stopped responding to Harrison, who was returning home from a fishing trip, and the only other passenger on board – the pilot’s friend.
‘By the time I had moved forward to the front of the airplane, I realized that we had now gone down at a very fast rate,’ Harrison said.
‘All I saw when I came up the front was water out the right window, and I knew it was coming quick. Very, very quickly.
‘At that point, I knew if I didn’t react, we would die.’
There was only one other person on the single-engine Cessna 208 Caravan plane with Harrison, who was returning home from a fishing trip in the Bahamas, the Today Show reports.
But, Harrison said, he managed to remain calm throughout the ordeal as Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller, helped guide him on how to land the plane.
‘I was pretty calm and collected the whole time because I knew it was a life-or-death situation,’ Harrison tells Guthrie. ‘Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re going to die.
‘And that’s what I did.’
In an exclusive interview with the Today Show, Darren Harrison, 39, recounts how he sprang into action as he noticed the single-engine plane he was on started nosediving
He spoke with host Savannah Guthrie about taking over the controls after the pilot fell unconscious in a health emergency
Harrison is expecting his first child with his wife, Brittney (pictured)
Still, it was not smooth sailing for Harrison, who had never flown a plane before.
He said that when he got to the pilot’s seat, he found that the headset the pilot had been using was frayed, so he had to grab the co-pilot’s headset.
Grabbing the wheel and pulling back, he noted, was ‘just common sense, I guess, being on airplanes, because I knew if I went up and yanked that the airplane would stall.
‘And I also knew at the rate we were going, we were probably going way too fast, and it would rip the wings off the airplane.
‘That’s the scariest part of the whole story,’ he said.
As he flew, though, he ultimately found land.
‘When I was flying and saw the state of Florida, at that second, I knew I’m going to land there,’ he recounted. ‘I don’t know what the outcome is going to be, I don’t know how it’s going to happen.
‘But I’m going to have to land this plane, because there is no other option.’
Fortunately, though, air traffic controller Robert Morgan quickly printed out a layout of the cockpit, which he used to guide the Harrison through the steps of flying and landing the plane as he struggled with the navigation system.
Soon, Harrison was pulling into the runway at the Palm Beach International Airport in Florida as Morgan told him he needed to slow down.
He said he then threw the throttle on the ground and braked as hard as he could so he could land the plane safely.
Once he was back on the ground, Harrison said, the magnitude of what he had done sunk in.
‘I said thank you for everything, and I threw the headset on the dash and said the biggest prayer I’ve ever said in my life.
‘That’s when all the emotions set in.’
He said he could not have landed the plane without his faith. ‘It’s the hand of God was on that plane,’ Harrison told Guthrie. ‘You know, it’s no other explanation for it.’
After he landed, Morgan previously said, he ran out to meet Harrison – and the two embraced on the tarmac.
‘It felt really good to help somebody, and he told me that he was going to go home tonight to see his pregnant wife,’ Morgan said.
Harrison right, embraced air traffic controller Robert Morgan, left, after he successfully landed the plane at the Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.
Morgan, right, printed out a picture of a Cessna 208 Caravan plane to help guide Harrison through the steps of flying and landing the plane as he struggled with the navigation system
The Cessna 208 Caravan is seen coming in to land last week at Palm Beach airport
Audio recordings showed Harrison didn’t even know how to turn the navigation system on, and did not know the plane’s location other than ‘off the Florida coast’
The flight path of the Cessna 208 Caravan, piloted by a passenger, is displayed hereby flgithradar24. The passenger turned south and flew roughly 70 miles towards Boca Raton before heading north again to land at Palm Beach International
Air traffic control recordings have revealed just how tense the situation was as the unnamed passenger with no flying experience tried to safely landed the Cessna light aircraft – a feat that one JetBlue pilot said was ‘nothing short of a miracle.’
In the audio, obtained by DailyMail.com, Harrison could be heard telling air traffic control in Fort Pierce, while flying over the Florida coastline around 70 miles north of his destination.
‘My pilot has gone incoherent. I have no idea how to fly the airplane.’
An air traffic control agent then replied: ‘Roger. What’s your position?’
The passenger replied: ‘I have no idea. I can see the coast of Florida in front of me. And I have no idea.’
The audibly shocked air traffic controller in Fort Pierce then told the passenger that he would try and locate the plane when the emergency call came through over his radio.
‘Maintain wings level and just try to follow the coast, either north or southbound,’ the controller said.
‘We’re trying to locate you.’
The pilot was taken to hospital, and the passenger safely made it off the plane
The small aircraft can be seen on the tarmac at Palm Beach airport, having successfully landed
For the next four minutes, audio showed the passenger remained remarkably calm as he tried to work out what to do and wait for the air traffic controller to find his aircraft.
‘Have you guys located me yet?’ he asked after a while.
‘I can’t even get my nav screen to turn on. It has all the information on it. You guys have any ideas on that?’
The man was eventually found flying off the coast of Boca Raton, and Morgan, at the Palm Beach airport, eventually managed to talk him down as he guided him on how to land the plane. air traffic control at Palm Beach airport managed to talk him down, guiding him how to land the plane.
The landing was a little wobbly, but ultimately safe and successful according to air traffic control, who were clearly astounded at the passenger’s ability to settle the plane on the runway with no prior experience whatsoever.
‘You just witnessed a couple passengers land that plane,’ the dumbfounded air traffic controller said over the radio.
Another pilot on the runway said: ‘Did you say the passengers landed the plane?’
‘That’s correct,’ control responded.
‘Oh, my gosh. Great job!’
The pilot, who remained unconscious was later taken to the hospital as a result of the unknown illness. His condition remains unknown.
An aviation expert told CNN it is not uncommon for small turboprop airplanes such as the Cessna 208 Caravan to fly with only one pilot, particularly when the flights are private.
An FAA spokesperson confirmed they were investigating the incident and said the pilot suffered a ‘possible medical issue’ – though did not provide further details on his condition.