A PILOT who fell ill at the controls, leaving a passenger who had never flown a plane before to land at Humberside Airport last night, has died.
Emergency services gathered at the north Lincolnshire terminal as darkness fell yesterday after passenger John Wildey needed the help of two instructors on the ground to guide the aircraft down safely.
Mr Wildey described how he landed the plane with a “right bump”, saying it was like a “controlled crash, really”.
He added he could not reach the brakes at first and did not think he was going to make it.
This morning the flight instructor who helped land the plane said the passenger performed a “beautiful landing”.
Roy Murray said he was surprised just how calm the man he knew only as John was as he brought the aircraft down.
The man landed the plane in the dark without lights.
The pilot was later pronounced dead.
Mr Murray said he was called in by air traffic controllers after a mayday call from the Cessna 172 light aircraft as it was heading back to its base at Sandtoft airfield, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at 6.20pm.
He said the novice flyer did four circuits of the airport before landing at 7.30pm.
“He did a beautiful landing,” Mr Murray said.
“I wouldn’t be frightened to fly with him.”
Mr Murray, who has more than 30 years of flying experience, said: “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 like 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 taken to use the main runway which was “lit up like a Christmas tree” as it was getting dark.
“I took him round three times,” the instructor said, “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.”
He said he was surprised just how calm the man was and how he was not panicking.
“I suppose I would be if I was in that position,” he said.
“It’s difficult at night with lights - perceptions are altogether different.”
Asked how he felt now, he said: “Satisfied but sad. There was a death involved. But satisfied because it could have been a lot worse.”
Humberside Police said: “The pilot of the light aircraft who became incapacitated while flying back to Sandtoft airfield during the evening of Tuesday October 8, resulting in an emergency landing at Humberside Airport, was sadly pronounced dead last night.
“Police are not treating the death as suspicious and, as such, a file will be prepared for the coroner in order to establish what led to the death of the pilot by way of an inquest.
“Formal ID of the pilot is likely to take place later today.”
Sandtoft is a small airfield near Doncaster. It is thought the pair, who have not been named, were on a flight training day.
The alert caused a major response from the emergency services.
“Humberside International Airport put into operation their emergency plan,” an airport spokesman said.
“The passenger flew over the airport a couple of times and then was talked down by two flight instructors, and the emergency services were waiting for them when he landed safely.”
Although the landing was described as “heavy”, it was said to be normal.
Some witnesses described the plane bumping on the runway and sparks coming off the front of it.
Moments before the pilot fell unconscious, a mayday call was sent and the emergency response was declared on the ground.