The brave passenger who safely landed a small plane in Florida after the pilot became incapacitated has been identified.
He’s Darren Harrison, 39, of Lakeland, a family member confirmed to the New York Post.
According to a Federal Aviation Administration release entitled “Miracle in the Air,” the hero passenger was traveling back home from the Bahamas to the Sunshine State with another passenger at around noon Tuesday when the pilot told them he “wasn’t feeling well” and fell against the controls.
The Cessna 208 immediately went “into a nosedive and sharp turn.”
Neither Harrison nor the other passenger on board had flying experience, and “what unfolded thereafter was truly remarkable,” said the FAA, who did not identify the man by name.
Harrison jumped into action, somehow pulling the aircraft out of the nosedive and calling the tower at Treasure Coast International Airport in Fort Pierce for help.
“I’ve got a serious situation here… the pilot is incoherent,” says the married father-to-be in audio released from the radio call. “And I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”
The lead air traffic controller at Palm Beach International Airport’s air traffic facility, Gregory Battani, quickly called Robert Morgan, a certified flight instructor who had experience piloting a Cessna aircraft.
Morgan printed out a picture of the cockpit and “offered clear, short directions” and confirmed that Harrison understood.
Morgan walked him through “turns, selecting flap settings needed to create enough lift at slower speeds and trim (to alleviate pressure from the control surfaces during flap extension) and explaining how to land,” the statement says.
The passenger initially wanted to fly into Boca Raton, said the FAA, but Morgan instead guided him to the West Palm Beach airport because it had a longer runway, was less congested, and had adequate radio coverage.
“We’ve never had anything like that. … I felt like I was in a movie,” Morgan said in the statement. “Everybody wanted to participate and came out of the offices to assist in any kind of way.”
Morgan guided the passenger through a long, stable final approach. He described what the runway was going to look like as the plane descended.
Once the small plane was over the runway, Morgan explained to the passenger how to keep the nose barely off the ground until the main gear touchdown.
The aircraft successfully landed at 12:27 pm First responders were there to assist with the original pilot, whose condition remains unknown.
Video of the dramatic, slightly wobbly, but ultimately successful landing has been widely shared.
Harrison has declined interviews with media so far, but his cousin, Matthew Harrison, told The New York Post he was both proud and shocked to find out what his relative had done.
“That was insane. I’m impressed too, he was so calm,” he told the outlet. “I’ve never known him to be that calm before.”
The heroic passenger’s day job is an interior designer and VP for Sunshine Interiors, a family flooring and window treatment business in Lakeland. The person who answered the phone on Friday at the office said “more calls than usual” had come in since the incident, and even some unexpected visits.
As for Harrison, he wasn’t available.
“He’s trying to stay low key and get his job done.”