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Hero passenger relives plane ordeal

A passenger who was forced to crash land a plane after the pilot was taken ill said he thought he was going to run into a wall as he struggled to reach the brakes to stop the aircraft.

John Wildey landed the plane at Humberside Airport, near Grimsby, north Lincolnshire after being talked through it by a flight instructor.

The pilot, who has since died, had collapsed in the cockpit and Mr Wildey - who had never even flown an aircraft before - was left to ground the Cessna 172.

Mr Wildey required several attempts before finally touching down in the dark - with no lights.

"I've never flown a plane before," he told BBC News.

"Now I know you bring back the controls, but I didn't bring them back hard enough, so really I was just sort of nose down rather than anything else.

"We touched and then there was a right bump - two or three bumps.

"I suppose it was a controlled crash really and then I just couldn't get the brakes because I couldn't reach them."

Mr Wildey 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.

The aircraft was heading back to its base at Sandtoft airfield, near Doncaster, South Yorkshire, at about 6.20pm last night when the mayday call came through.

Flight instructor Roy Murray, who guided Mr Wildey through the manoeuvre , said he made a "beautiful landing".

"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."

A full emergency response was put in place by the airport in conjunction with all the services.

An RAF Sea King helicopter from RAF Leconfield was also brought in to help the first-time pilot find the airport and the runway.

The plane is understood to have undergone only minor damage to its wheel, although some witnesses described seeing sparks as the aircraft touched down.

At a press conference, airport commercial director Paul Litten expressed his condolences to the family of the man who died.

Mr Litten said all the emergency services worked well together.

Debbie Zost, operations managers at the airport in charge of air traffic control, said an investigation was under way and it was not yet possible to say which of the men in the plane made the mayday call.

Matthew Fox, the plane's owner, said: "He has done a bloody good job.

"It would be nigh on impossible for someone who has never had any tuition to do what he did.

"The pilot has died and that is very sad but it could have been a lot worse.

"He (Mr Wildey) has done remarkably well - 90% of people wouldn't have been able to do it."

The plane was leased by Flying Fox Aviation, based at Bagby Airfield near Thirsk in North Yorkshire, to Sandtoft Airfield and Flying School.

Mr Fox said the passenger's job was made more difficult as he was not sat in the pilot's seat.

"You have dual controls but the instruments like air speed and height are on the pilot's side," he said. "The visual aids are not in front of you."

The plane was damaged in the landing.

"It landed OK as in the fact there were no injuries," he said. "There is damage to the nose-wheel and propeller which means the engine will need to be removed and inspected.

"The plane can be fixed and he is all right and that's what matters."

Mr Fox said pilots undergo regular medical tests.

"It's pretty well regulated but freak things like this do occur."


From Belfast Telegraph