Pilot dies after passenger forced to land plane

A passenger was forced to land a light aircraft he was travelling in after the pilot fell ill. Picture: Comp
A passenger was forced to land a light aircraft he was travelling in after the pilot fell ill. Picture: Comp
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A passenger who was forced to land a plane after the pilot was taken ill said he thought he was going to hit a wall as he struggled to reach the brakes to stop the aircraft.

John Wildey, 77 landed the plane at Humberside Airport, near Grimsby, north Lincolnshire, after being talked down by a flight instructor.

The pilot, who has since died, had collapsed in the cockpit and Mr Wildey – who had never flown an aircraft – was left to ground the Cessna 172.

He required several attempts before finally touching down in the dark, with no lights, on Tuesday evening.

“I’ve never flown a plane before,” he said last night. “Now I know you bring back the controls, but I didn’t bring them back hard enough, so really I was just sort of nose down rather than anything else.

“We touched and then there was a right bump – two or three bumps.

“I suppose it was a controlled crash, really, and then I just couldn’t get the brakes because I couldn’t reach them.”

Mr Wildey said he began to veer off the runway as he was attempting to reach the brakes and could see a wall rapidly approaching.

“I thought, ‘I ain’t going to do it’, but we managed to stop in the end,” he said.

The aircraft was heading back to its base at Sandtoft airfield, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at about 6:20pm on Tuesday when the mayday call came through.

Flight instructor Roy Murray, who guided Mr Wildey through the manoeuvre, said he made a “beautiful landing”. He added: “I wouldn’t be frightened to fly with him.”

Mr Murray, who has more than 30 years of flying experience, added: “I feel satisfied but sad. It could have been a lot worse.”

Asked how he felt after the landing, he said: “Ecstatic. Very relieved but also sad.” Mr Murray, who is chief instructor at the Frank Morgan School of Flying, said he had never heard of an incident such as this in the UK.

He said he was called at his home near Grimsby at 6:25pm and went to the tower at the airport, where the decision was made to use the main runway which was “lit up like a Christmas tree” as it was getting dark.

The instructor said: “I took him round three times, which were reasonable but not good enough to land.

“Then, on the fourth, he made a nice landing.”

Mr Murray said the atmosphere in the control tower was tense and there were handshakes but no cheers when the plane touched down.

“It was tense at times, especially the last mile or so,” he said. “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.”

Mr Murray went on: “He seemed quite calm. He said he had a dry mouth, as we all had. But he’s done a good job.”

A full emergency response was put in place by the airport in conjunction with all the services.

An RAF Sea King helicopter from RAF Leconfield was also brought in to help the first-time pilot find the airport and the runway.

The plane is understood to have undergone only minor damage to its wheel, although some witnesses described seeing sparks as the aircraft touched down.

Airport commercial director Paul Litten expressed his condolences to the family of the man who died. Mr Litten said all the emergency services had worked well together.

Debbie Zost, operations managers at the airport in charge of air traffic control, said an investigation was under way and it was not yet possible to say which of the men in the plane made the mayday call.