Man Lands Plane Safely After Pilot Dies at Controls
"I need to get this thing on the ground. My pilot's deceased. I need help!"
It was a desperate mayday from the cockpit of a private plane.
"I've got to declare an emergency. I need help here!"
57-year-old Doug White, his wife, and two teenage daughters were passengers aboard a charter flight when just after take-off, the pilot died without warning at the controls.
They were on a flight from Marco Island, Florida to their home in Monroe, Louisiana.
"His chin was on his chest like this. He never reached or grabbed or moved or said anything."
White had to take the controls, but he had no idea how to fly the plane. "I just knew it had wings and it had an engine on each wing," he says.
Dramatic just-released audio tapes reveal what happened as air traffic controllers tried to talk White down.
Lisa Grimm: "Disengage the autopilot. We're going to have you hand fly the plane."
White: "I disengaged it. I'm flying the plane by hand. You find me the longest, widest runway you can, Ma'am."
Lisa Grimm is a 32-year-old flying instructor and air traffic controller.
"Did it ever cross your mind that they might all die?" asks INSIDE EDITION's Diane McInerney.
"Of course, absolutely. I think [...] the odds were more likely that that was going to be the outcome of the situation," says Grimm.
Meanwhile, inside the plane there was chaos. White's wife and daughters were praying and crying in their seats and warning sirens were blaring in the cockpit.
"Warning buttons up here, they were all yelling, blinking and flashing. [I] just ignored them. I didn't know what they were anyway," White says.
As White approached the airport at Fort Myers, Florida, another air traffic controller took over the radio:
Air Traffic Controller: "You are lined up for the runway."
White: "When I touch down, if I ever touch down, do I just kill the throttle or what?"
Air Traffic Controller: "That's correct. When you touch down, slowly kill the throttle."
White: "Got a dead pilot sitting beside me!"
Incredibly, White pulled off a perfect landing.
"We hugged each other, there were tears, there was clapping, it was just like suddenly the weight of the world had come off our shoulders it was miraculous. It was wonderful," Grimm says of the reaction in the control tower after White safely touched down.
"I'm just grateful we made it," White tells INSIDE EDITION.
Lisa Grimm was only on the job four months before the terrifying incident, but she does have more than ten years experience as a pilot.