Below:Read the interview and hear the pilot/atc conversation
Every private pilot thinks about it but for an unidentified passenger on a King Air last Sunday (Easter - April 12, 2009), the fantasy/nightmare came true. The self-described low-time single pilot stepped into the cockpit of the big turboprop twin when the pilot collapsed, and a short time later, died at the controls.
"It's just me and the Good Lord hand flying this," the passenger/pilot told Fort Myers approach controllers as he got the feel for the powerful aircraft and set it up for landing. As you can hear in this podcast, he didn't know much about flying a turboprop twin, but he also knew what he didn't know.
The pilot, Joe Cabuk, collapsed while the aircraft was under the control of Miami Center and was climbing through 10,000 feet on autopilot. Miami controllers, including at least one experienced pilot, cleared traffic and got the stand-in pilot hand flying and headed for a long runway at Fort Myers.
Meanwhile Dan Favio, a controller at Fort Meyers Approach contacted a friend, Kari Sorensen, who is an experienced King Air pilot and was able to relay speed, equipment and other vital flight information to the pilot through controller Brian Norton, himself an experienced pilot.
Norton and Favio worked the King Air exclusively, talking White to final. In the back were White's wife and two daughters. The family was flying home after attending the funeral for White's brother. The landing was uneventful and a clearly emotional White can be heard on the ATC tape telling the controllers of his safe arrival. "We're down, buddy. Thank you."
National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) President Patrick Forrey called those involved "heroic" but at the same time said it was part of the job of controllers. "They all went above and beyond the call of duty and it is times like these that I hope the flying public can see the invaluable lifeline that controllers provide every day – and particularly in emergency situations," he said.
Doug White was having a tough week. He and his family were returning home to Monroe, La., from Marco Island, Fla., where they had just attended his brother’s funeral. White, 56, a private pilot with about 230 hours flight time in single-engine Cessna 172s, sat in the right seat of a chartered King Air 200 with his wife and two teenage daughters in the passenger cabin. White had learned to fly in 1991 but set flying aside until this year when he logged 150 hours in preparation for an instrument rating he plans to earn this spring. “I’d only been in the King Air once before,” said White. Read AOPA’s exclusive interview with White and listen to audio of the event >>