In May, Darren Harrison, a passenger with no aviation experience, managed to land a small plane in Florida after the pilot suffered a medical incident. Palm Beach International Airport thus witnessed a rare event in the history of aviation. Air traffic controller Robert Morgan, who is also a flight instructor, helped the passenger land the Cessna 208.
In an interview given to the program Today from NBC, Harrison reported the situation experienced inside the aircraft. “I realized that we had entered at a very fast pace and when I got to the front, all I saw was water. I grabbed the controls on the plane and started pulling and climbing the controls,” he explained.
“Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you die,” the 39-year-old businessman told NBC, who was returning from a trip to the Bahamas, along with a colleague and the pilot. The outcome could not have been better and professionals in the field considered that Harrison did a very good job.
Simulators and tutorials are the key to increasing confidence
For Douglas Moss, a former United Airlines pilot and certified flight instructor, there are three factors that make the difficult task of landing a plane possible. If the first condition is that the passenger realizes that he is in a life-threatening situation, the second factor is related to the help of air traffic controllers. Moss further pointed to the natural aptitude for controlling mechanical devices. “For example, being able to quickly adapt and understand the relationships between flight control devices, such as rudder and throttle controls, and their aerodynamic responses,” he explained in an interview with CNN.
This is the ideal scenario for small planes, as they are relatively intuitive. On larger planes, like commercial planes, things can get complicated, warned Boeing 767 pilot Patrick Smith. “A non-pilot wouldn’t have a clue how to work with communication radios, let alone fly and land the jet.”
Although the situation is not recurrent, the closest example of an attempted landing of a passenger plane was in 2005, in Greece. Smith reported the episode to CNN International. “A flight attendant tried to take control of the Boeing 737 after passengers and crew were knocked unconscious due to a pressurization failure. The plane ran out of fuel and crashed.” The crash of Helio Airways Flight 522 killed all 121 people on board.
The writer and pilot also confessed that “the odds [de sermos bem-sucedidos] are still very much against us, but the results vary from person to person and from plane to plane.”
An advantage for scenarios of this kind is the use of flight simulators, argues Smith, as these programs can save the day, adding that “they are not entirely realistic (…), but they can make a difference in life or death”.
The Internet presents a set of resources for those who want to know more about this topic. A simple “how to land a plane” search, as well as in-depth videos on various social platforms, can boost confidence. A study carried out by the University of Waikato, New Zealand, confirmed the thesis that watching a four-minute YouTube video of two pilots making an emergency landing makes people feel more capable of doing it alone. . Kayla Jordan, one of the study’s authors, revealed that “people who watched the video were 28.6% more confident in their ability to land a plane without dying.”
The investigation also advanced that men were more confident than women by about 12%. “This finding is in line with work that found men tend to be more confident in their knowledge and abilities than women, such as running or diving,” Jordan said.