Florida passenger who landed plane after pilot passed out says he had to ‘do or die’

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A Florida man who was forced to take over the controls of a small airplane last week, after the pilot had a medical emergency mid-flight, says that he did what he did because he didn’t have a choice.

Darren Harrison was flying with the pilot in a small Cessna when the pilot passed out. Harrison radioed the control tower, took the controls and landed the plane safely at Palm Beach International Airport in South Florida — even though he had no piloting experience.

“My pilot has gone incoherent,” he said during the crisis. “I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”

On Sunday, Harrison told NBC’s Today that it was an extremely sobering experience — although he kept his cool.

“Somebody asked me the other day what my heart rate was … when all of that was going on — and I said probably in the 90s,” he said.

“And they said, what about when it was all over? And I said it was probably 160.”

Air traffic controllers and flight instructor Robert Morgan successfully talked Harrison through to a safe landing.

“By the time I stopped the plane, that’s when it hit me,” Harrison said. “I was pretty calm and collected the whole time, because I knew it was a life-or-death situation.

“Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re gonna die. And that’s what I did.”

Harrison, 38, who lives in Lakeland, Fla., runs a flooring and design shop with his father. He and the pilot were returning to Florida from the Bahamas last week when the emergency occurred. Palm Beach International Airport is located about 70 miles north of Miami.

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