2005 Mainsail Drive, Naples, FL
11000 Terminal Access Road, Fort Myers, FL
FORT MYERS — After attending his brother’s funeral, Doug White hired a private charter pilot to fly his family back to Louisiana. But 10 minutes into the flight, the pilot lost consciousness. The plane was on autopilot, and kept ascending thousands of feet higher. White, a pilot with limited experience and none aboard the faster, larger plane he was riding in, called air traffic controllers, told his wife and daughters to get in the back and pray — and with the help of controllers, landed the plane safely about half an hour later.
Here is White’s post on naplesnews.com and check back for more of the interview with White.
First of all, to get the facts straight, it was a King Air 200 with the new PW -52 engines. The pilot died about 15 minutes off of Marco Island. The plane was climbing thru around 5-6 thousand feet heading to an initial altitude of 10,000 and it was on auto pilot. The man in the co-pilot seat is a low time Cessna 172 single engine land pilot with no instrument rating. He also was not familiar with any auto pilot functions. It was his wife and 2 girls who were the passengers. (A total of 5 people on board) They were over a cloud layer. The passenger had no auto pilot experience. When the pilot died the passenger knew how to talk on the radio and told Ft. Myers approach that he had an emergency. The air traffic controllers were super! The King Air 200 blew through 10,000 and continued to climb and the passenger told the tower that he needed to stop the climb somehow. They talked him through turning off the auto pilot and the passenger the began to hand fly the King Air at approx. 16,000 feet. After vectors and assistance and 45-60 minutes later he landed the plane safely on runway 06 at Ft. Myers airport. If the media wants to erroneously report 6 souls on board, so be it, because #6 was the good Lord Himself. How do I know all of this? I was there.
It could have ended so differently.
Five people on board a plane that took off from Marco Island Executive Airport on Sunday got back on the ground safely after the pilot of their private plane died mid-air.
One passenger assisted by three air traffic controllers and a pilot relaying cockpit instructions from Connecticut worked together to avoid further tragedy.
The pilot’s name and cause of death were not available as of Sunday night, nor were the names of the four passengers on the Beechcraft King Air 200 twin-engine plane. Due to Federal Aviation Administration rules, the names of the air traffic controllers who helped bring the plane down have not been released, said FAA spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen.
Steven Wallace, a representative for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in Miami, said the flight turned harrowing soon after take-off, as the plane was in the process of climbing to 10,000 feet. The pilot checked in with the Miami air control tower once he was airborne from the Marco airport, which does not have an air traffic control tower.
“Our controller who was working the afternoon rush tried to acknowledge him and give him climbing instructions and he never responded to us,” said Wallace, who was present during the radio discussions and monitored the radar to watch the plane’s progress.
Eventually, another voice came on the radio from the twin-engine plane. One of four passengers on board said the pilot had passed out and that the plane was still climbing on auto-pilot. What followed was a dicey 15 or 20 minutes in which several controllers worked to continue directing the normal flow of Sunday afternoon air traffic, all while helping the passenger disengage auto pilot on the plane and begin descending to Southwest Florida International Airport, which was, by then, the nearest runway.
At one point, said Wallace, the man who took control of the aircraft said he believed the pilot was dead.
“It’s kind of like being the traffic policeman standing in the highway in the middle of rush hour,” said Wallace. “The traffic on the highway doesn’t stop. (The controller was) trying to work all of these other airplanes while this emergency was going on.”
The passenger who took the controls and was in contact with the control tower in Miami, and subsequently in Fort Myers, has single-engine plane experience, said Bergen. He had been a pilot since at least 1990. However, he was not certified to fly a twin-engine plane like the King Air, which is a large luxury plane, said Wallace. To instruct him on how to maneuver the plane and bring it back to earth, one air traffic controller got on the phone with a friend in Connecticut who is rated to fly the King Air aircraft.
While on the phone with the friend, the controller radioed information to the passenger that helped land the plane safely at Southwest Florida International.
“Controllers are a unique bunch of folks,” said Wallace. “Not all of them know how to fly but when it comes to crunch time, you pull all of your resources together.”
Bergen said it is not unusual for controllers who have pilot experience to “participate in resolving situations.”
Wallace was quick to give kudos to everyone involved. He said no airplanes were delayed or redirected while air traffic controllers were helping land the King Air, and said the passenger-turned-pilot executed the landing like an old pro. It was a bitter moment, though, said Wallace, given the fact that FAA controllers recently shouldered a significant pay cut.
“The three here and at Fort Myers approach were all in a very unique situation where the FAA has cut their pay 30 percent and said, ‘They’re not worth what we pay them,’” Wallace said.
The plane, which was en route to Jackson, Miss., is owned by White Equipment Leasing LLC, in Archibald. La., according to the FAA Web site.