Student pilot lands plane after instructor passes out mid-flight

David Philips /

What was supposed to be his first lesson on a two-seater plane turned into a crash course on how to fly and land a light aircraft solo. A trainee pilot was forced to take over the controls and make an emergency landing after his flight instructor collapsed mid-flight. With the guidance of air traffic control, the student managed to land the plane safely at an airport in Perth, Australia.

Max Sylvester made a distress call to air traffic control just over an hour into his flying lesson, on August 31, 2019, after realizing his flight instructor had fallen unconscious beside him, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.

A recording of the radio communications between the student pilot and an air traffic controller reveals what took place in the following hour before the pilot finally landed the aircraft, a Cessna 152, at the Jandakot Airport (JAD) in Perth, Western Australia.

“Do you know how to operate the aero plane,” the air traffic controller asks, to which, Sylvester replies: “This is my first lesson”.

The controller then asks about the condition of the flight instructor. “He’s leaning over my shoulder; I’m trying to keep him up but he keeps falling down,” Sylvester can be heard as saying.

According to BBC World News, the trainee pilot had previously taken two flying lessons and had never landed a plane before. It was his first lesson on the Cessna 152.

The audio recording of the emergency call also shows the calm and composure of the student pilot as the tower helps him guide the plane safely to the ground.

“We can see you out the window. So we are tracking where you are at the moment. You’re doing a really great job,” the controller says. “I know this is very stressful. But you’re doing an amazing job and we’re going to help you get down to the ground”.

“Can I do a flyover, please,” Sylvester then asks, as the tower walks him through the instructions on how to fly the plane step by step.

“So if you want to just straight away, we’ll just overfly the field and get you nice and comfortable with that. If you can, just overfly direct the Jandakot and we’ll get you acquainted with the runway so that you’re familiar with the runway that we are going to get you to land on”.

“There’s currently no other traffic airborne at Jandakot at the moment, so you’re not going to be getting too close to anyone, that’s going to be fine,” the controller tells the student pilot.

With the encouragement and guidance of the air traffic control, Sylvester makes a few flyovers at the Jandakot Airport, practicing approaches.

“I’ll do one more [approach] like that and then I think I’ll be alright,” he tells the operator.

“Let’s try and land on the next one. That was perfect. Everything you did there was perfect. We’re going to land on the next one,” the controller replies. “You’ve got this mate; you’re doing really well”.

The controller’s calm, encouraging words can be heard throughout the recording.

After an hour, the student pilot finally lands the aircraft safely at Jandakot Airport where emergency crews are already on stand-by to meet the crew.

“Congratulations on your first solo landing,” the operator can be heard telling Sylvester as he continues to guide the young pilot on the tarmac.

Also at the airport on that day was Sylvester’s wife and three children, joined by Chuck McElwee, owner of Air Australia International, the flight school which employs the pilot.

McElwee has praised the cooperation between the tower and the student pilot. “There was no damage at all to the plane. Matter of fact, it was a perfect landing,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC News.

The instructor was taken to the hospital and is in a stable condition, according to ABC.

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