By Michael Pineda
Darren Harrison was just trying to get back to Florida when he got on board a Cessna 208 in the Bahamas last week.
He got more than he bargained for when the pilot became incapacitated, resulting in some on-the-job training for the 39-year-old.
Harrison was one of two passengers on the plane when he had an ultimate “I slept in a Holiday Inn Express moment,” on May 10. During an interview, Harrison related he had to reach over the incapacitated pilot and take control of the plane – as it was in a dive – despite not having any previous flying experience. Not that he needed a reminder of how delicate of a situation he was in, but Harrison noted all he could see out the right window was water.
He stabilized the plane and began working through some new issues. The first of which was, outside of approaching Florida, he had no idea where he was.
In stepped air traffic controller Robert Morgan. Harrison had boarded the plane intending to travel to Boca Raton. Given the circumstances, Plan B was in order and Morgan directed Harrison toward Palm Beach, where he worked in the flight tower. Conditions were more ideal for a first solo flight – even if you did not sign up for it.
As it turned out, Morgan has been an instructor pilot for more than 20 years. That is the good news. The bad news was he had never flown a Cessna 208.
Morgan simply got a map of the cockpit and guided Harrison to the airport and talked him through a landing. They say any landing you can walk away from is a good one. For all intents and purposes, Harrison nailed that one.
Talk about ice in the veins. This is the guy you want on the free throw line with no time left. It is the guy you want at the plate with two outs and needing a home run. It might make more sense if Harrison might have owned some kind of flight simulator game or something. This closest I have come to trying to fly was a Call of Duty game and half the time, I am upside down heading into the drink.
Not Harrison. He steps into the cockpit and says challenge accepted.
The only time I was in a small plane was in high school. A friend from the small town of Marietta in Love County named Russell Rankin decided to take some friends and me for a little spin after a night of festivities at the Russellrosa. He did the little trick of diving so we could see a pencil hang in the air. That caused another friend, Chris Brown, also known as Stork, to perform the little trick of making his breakfast reappear as he sat beside me in the backseat.
These days, if I go up in a small plane, it better be with a pilot like Rick Cacini. Rick runs in 5K races so I feel pretty secure that I will not be stuck at the controls. Since I am not flying from the Bahamas to Florida, Rick can keep the blue skies to himself.
I am more than content to stay on the ground and toast Darren Harrison. Congratulations and all the respect in the world.