He had exactly zero flight experience, which he made sure to tell the air traffic controller trying to guide him to land at Palm Beach International Airport. He had many hours of flight time, and he tells Today’s Savannah Guthrie (see the video below) that they came in handy. That, and common sense.
“Just common sense, I guess,” he says when asked what made him take over from the incapacitated pilot. “Being on airplanes. Because I knew if I went up and yanked, that the airplane would stall. And I also knew at the rate we were going, we were probably going way too fast, and it would rip the wings off the airplane.”
By that time, the small plane was already in nosedive: the pilot had warned the two passengers that he wasn’t feeling too well and then blacked out. They were just 30 minutes into their return flight from the Bahamas, where Harrison and his friend had gone fishing. Thinking of his pregnant wife at home, Harrison decided to give it his best to make that landing.
“When I was flying and saw the state of Florida, at that second, I knew I’m going to land there,” he explains. “I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But I’m going to have to land this airplane because there is no other option.”
The Cessna 208 Caravan is a utility plane with dual controls, slightly more difficult to operate and more powerful than other single-engined Cessnas. Harrison says the guidance he received from traffic control, specifically Captain Robert Morgan, who is a part-time flight instructor, was actually the thing that helped with the impeccable landing. He also credits his newfound ability to keep his cool, divine forces, and his determination that this was not his day to die.
As Guthrie says, it was a series of “miracles” leading up to what air traffic controllers and aviation experts dubbed a 10-out-10 landing of a Cessna 208 Caravan by a total newbie.