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This question deals with the plausibility of the Hollywood cliché of a passenger on a commercial jetliner landing a passenger plane.

My question is related but broader, and less hypothetical:

Has anyone ever found themselves in an emergency with no piloting experience (e.g., the amateur pilot of a small plane dies or is incapacitated, and the only other person in the plane has never flown anything before) and been talked down by Air Traffic Control?

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  • $\begingroup$ abcnews.go.com/US/… $\endgroup$ – abelenky Feb 15 '16 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ @abelenky Was going to post that one, happened very near to where I live, although the wife did have some pilot training many years ago. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 15 '16 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of examples of this - especially if we're talking about single engine private aircraft. Have you done a search? (For example there was one widely reported here in the UK, I think about two years ago. If I recall correctly he was a non-pilot and it was dark by the time he landed, though a lit runway was used.) $\endgroup$ – Andy Feb 15 '16 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ That actually happened to one of my co-workers, although there was no time to contact ATC and he didn't exactly land the plane. The pilot had a stroke mid-flight. He passed out during final, collapsed into the yoke. My friend was able to get him off the yoke, and abort the landing. The pilot woke up briefly, lined them up with a nearby pasture then passed out again. He did his best, but he hit too hard, stuck the prop in the ground and flipped the plane. He and his wife walked away with only bumps and bruises. The pilot died from the stroke. $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Feb 15 '16 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ Related: Boy trapped in refrigerator eats own foot $\endgroup$ – mins Feb 15 '16 at 19:26
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The answer is yes. One example was on April 2, 2012. Helen Collins, an 80-year old Grandmother was forced to take the controls of her husband's CE-414 and land it at Door Country Cherryland Airport (KSUE) after her husband had a massive heart attack at the controls and died. She managed to circle the airfield and call 911 on a cell phone. The emergency dispatcher contacted the FAA who got in touch with ATC. A KSUE based private pilot named Robert Yuksonavich took off and joined her in formation, talking her through what was about to happen and flew her wing on several practice approaches prior to the landing attempt. On landing the Cessna 414 skidded off the runway and came to a stop in the grass, breaking the nose gear off. Helen survived with only minor injuries; her husband was pronounced dead on the scene.

A brief piece by the CBS morning news featuring commentary by Capt Chesly Sullenberger about the incident.

This is the full ATC of the accident

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    $\begingroup$ She sounds amazingly calm. Massive kudos to her for keeping a level head. $\endgroup$ – Richard Mar 3 '17 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ That was an amazing achievement, especially considering Mrs Collins had just watched her husband die in the seat next to her, the person she'd shared her life with. I can't imagine how devastating that was, then to have to land the aircraft - I think that would tax even an experienced GA pilot. However her son stated that she had taken some flying lessons in the past and flown solo in a single engine aircraft, albeit over 30 years before this incident $\endgroup$ – Dave Gremlin Aug 3 '17 at 11:56
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In 2009 the pilot of a Kingair 200 (Registration No. N559DW) fell unconscious and died during flight while flying over South Florida, and a passenger took control and landed at Fort Myers International Airport. There was another incident in the UK where a passenger landed a Cessna 172 after the pilot had a heart attack, but I do not have a source for that.

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    $\begingroup$ dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2451546/… $\endgroup$ – javawizard Aug 24 '16 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ The 2009 KingAir incident doesn't count, because the passenger is/was a pilot, just did not have multi-engine time or rating. You don't give any information for the second incident, so this is not an answer to the question asked. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Sep 24 '16 at 14:11
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John Wildey was in a Cessna 172 when the pilot became incapacitated and was successfully talked down by ATC in October 2013. He had worked as a clerk for the RAF and been on several GA flights, but had not had any flight training.

His story was featured in The Daily Mail and became an episode of Mayday. There also happens to be a Wikipedia page on this subject.

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  • $\begingroup$ In all fairness, much of the talking down was done by a flight instructor, not ATC. The flight instructor just happened to use ATC facilities and probably had much help from the fact that ATC cleared the airspace around a pretty large airport in response to the initial mayday call. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 3 '17 at 8:55
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As many others have said, there was, most notably when a man in his seventies died while flying his friend back to their home airport in the west parish of London, when night fell and the first time Cessna 172 pilot became nervous and was thankfully able to land the aircraft at a local international airport.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be an excellent answer, if only you gave actual information in it. Please take the time to look up the relevant details. As it is, this is simply a comment. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Sep 24 '16 at 14:13

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