LONDON — When the pilot of his small plane collapsed in the cockpit, passenger John Wildey took the controls of the Cessna 172 over England, and suddenly began his first experience of landing — with some help from instructors on the ground.
Officials at Humberside Airport in northwest England put emergency plans into place and flight instructors were called in to help Wildey after the mayday call went out Tuesday evening.
Soon after he landed, his friend the pilot, the only other person aboard the aircraft, died.
Wildey praised the flight instructors who talked him through several attempts to land before he touched down in the dark in what he described as a “controlled crash.”
He 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.
Emergency services were waiting when the plane touched down, after a few bumps.
Rob Murray, one of the flight instructors, said he was glad to have helped and that Wildey did a “remarkable job,” given he had never flown a plane before.
“It’s a fantastic feeling, knowing I have achieved something and probably saved somebody’s life,” Murray said.
He said the atmosphere in the control tower was tense and there were handshakes but no cheers when the plane touched down.
The emergency landing occurred not far from Sandtoft Airfield, where the plane had planned to return after a short flight.
At a news conference at Humberside Airport, commercial director Paul Litten expressed his condolences to the family of the man who died. Police said an inquest will be carried out to establish what caused the pilot’s death.