Can you land the plane in an emergency?

(CNN) — This is a nightmare scenario: the pilot of your flight is incapacitated and someone has to sit in their seat and land the plane. Could you do it?

If your name is Darren Harrison, the answer is yes. A pilot flying from the Bahamas to Fort Pierce in Florida in early May “lost communications”, leaving a single-engine Cessna 208 aircraft without a rudder. But with the help of certified flight instructor and air traffic controller Robert Morgan, Harrison Radio landed airplane almost perfect at Palm Beach International Airport.

This incident is just the latest in a string of equally successful landings, in which a passenger landed the aircraft safely with the help of someone on the ground or from another aircraft.

In 2019 flight cadet Max Sylvester landed the plane in Western Australia during his first flying lesson after the pilot passed out. In 2013, retired John Wildey, who served in the Air Force but was not a pilot, safely led the plane landed in the northeast of England in the dark and after several failed attempts. And in 2012 in Wisconsin, 80-year-old Helen Collins, who had some piloting experience, successfully landed the plane that her husband flew before he fell ill.

These events have one thing in common: they all involved Cessna aircraft.

These small aircraft are the best choice for flight schools as they are durable and relatively intuitive to fly, which has made them popular with flying enthusiasts.

It is important to note that they require only one pilot, while larger aircraft have two (or more in the case of long-haul commercial flights that use crew rotation). If one of them becomes incapacitated, the other simply takes over. In 2009 Boeing 777 landed safely after one of the pilots died midway through the transatlantic flight and the remaining two took control.

Cooling precedent

A passenger with no flying experience landed a private jet safely at a Florida airport with the help of an air traffic controller after the pilot became incapacitated. Nothing is known about the pilot’s condition at this time. This is reported by Pete Mountain from CNN.

According to Douglas Moss, an FAA-certified flight instructor and former United Airlines pilot, while it is very difficult to land a plane without experience, it is definitely possible under certain conditions, as the events above show.

First, a motivated person who understands that he is in a life or death situation. Secondly, the help of a flight instructor on the radio to tell them about every step. And finally, some natural talent for controlling a mechanical device.

“For example, the ability to quickly adapt and understand the relationship between aircraft flight control devices, such as rudder and throttle, and their aerodynamic characteristics,” says Moss. But if any of these conditions are missing, he adds, things can get ugly.

However, on larger aircraft such as airliners, even this optimal scenario may not work, according to Patrick Smith, an airline pilot who flies the Boeing 767 and author of the popular book and blog Ask a Pilot.

Smith believes that a person with no experience in flying, who took over the control of a commercial passenger aircraft at altitude, would not have a chance of a successful outcome.

“The non-pilot has no idea how to use radio communication, let alone how to fly and land on an airplane,” he says.

The most successful unskilled crash landings have involved Cessna light aircraft.


No passenger has ever boarded an airliner, but that’s mostly because no one has ever had to try.

“The closest real-life example of this took place a few years ago over Greece, when a flight attendant who was also a cadet pilot took control of a Boeing 737 after the rest of the crew and passengers were incapacitated due to overpressure. He couldn’t do anything, the plane ran out of fuel and crashed,” Smith says, referring to 2005 accident Helios Airways Flight 522, which killed all 121 people on board.

Flight attendant Andreas Prodromou remained conscious thanks to a portable oxygen tank, but gained access to the cockpit only a few minutes before the engines caught fire.

Slightly more favorable would be a scenario in which the aircraft is already set up to land and aligned to the runway rather than cruising altitude.

“The odds are still very bad, but the results will vary from person to person and from plane to plane,” says Smith.

“Where exactly is the aircraft from the runway in terms of altitude, distance and speed? And how accurate are the man’s interpretations of what the plane is doing? good luck.”

Does confidence help?

The fully featured flight simulator offers a useful test of whether you can land the plane.

The fully featured flight simulator offers a useful test of whether you can land the plane.


What about flight simulation programs like the popular Microsoft Flight Simulator? According to Smith, they can give you an edge.

“An experienced enough amateur might have saved the day. But even the most advanced hobby simulators are not entirely realistic. The devil is in the details – there are switches, sequences, and system quirks that you don’t really see in them. , but can be critical in the scenarios we’re talking about.”

For those who want to plan ahead, the internet is full of resources on how to land a plane, including an entry called “How to land a plane in an emergency» from the popular wikiHow guide, as well as detailed video lessons. It’s hard to say if they can actually increase the odds, but they can definitely increase self-confidence.
psychological study The University of Waikato in New Zealand shows that simply watching a four-minute YouTube video of two pilots making an emergency landing in mountainous terrain makes people feel better equipped to do it themselves.

“Despite being told that they know that landing a plane requires a lot of experience, people who watched the video were 28.6% more confident in their ability to land a plane without dying compared to people who saw it. didn’t watch,” Kayla says. Jordan, one of the authors of the study.

This is because, according to Jordan, when beginners learn only a little about a difficult task, their self-confidence rises rapidly — a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In the study, this bias appears to be stronger in men than in women.

“Whether they watched the video or not, we found that men were more confident in their ability to land a plane than women by about 12%,” Jordan says. “This finding is consistent with existing research that has shown that men tend to be more overconfident in their knowledge and abilities than women, even in high-stakes environments such as competitive running or diving.”

According to Patrick Smith, there’s an easy way to test this misplaced belief and determine for sure whether a novice can actually land an airliner: use a professional flight simulator that airlines train their pilots on.

“Put a person in a real full scale flight simulator at 35,000 feet without assistance and see what happens,” he says. “It won’t be pretty.”

Featured Image Credit: ERIC PIRMONT/AFP via Getty Images

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