I have been around airplanes and aviation most of my life. And I'll admit that when I board a commercial airliner I replay a macabre fantasy (which I no doubt share with my fellow Aviators) that fleetingly rears its head as I make my way to my seat: that somehow the pilots would become incapacitated, and it would be up to me to land the plane.
It could a 'minor collision' with an errant private plane, like in Airport 1975. Or, it could be that the crew succumbed to food poisoning after eating fish, al la Airplane! Regardless of the reasons of how we get there, the end result is always the same: my uncanny abilities to fly any plane saves the day. Hey...I did say it was a fantasy!
And while I've only dreamt it, Doug White of Archibald, Louisiana has lived it. The lucky bastard.
Last Sunday, White and his family were flying from Marco Island, FL to Jackson, MS after attending funeral services for his brother. Okay, so he's not that lucky...it has to be terrible to lose a brother. They were flying in a Beechcraft King Air, a nice turboprop, twin-engine plane to be sure, but certainly not a 747. And while the article didn't mention it, I imagine that this must've been a charter flight, because King Airs are not flown by any regularly-scheduled airline that I' aware of. That is, unless you're going to Hooterville.
Shortly after takeoff, White noticed the pilot was slouched over, and wasn't at all communicative. He quickly surmized the pilot was out (sadly, he later died), and communicated this information to air traffic control. How'd he know how to do that, you ask? Turns out Doug White is a pilot with a single-engine rating and about 130 hours. While that's not a whole lot of flying hours, it's about 100 more than you need to get your pilot's license. So he did have a fairly good - pardon the pun - grounding in landing airplanes.
Hmmm. So, while sad and something you don't read about everyday, this really wasn't so amazing. It's like asking your son, three months into having his driver's license, to parallel park your Porsche. Sure, it would elevate his stress (and yours), but it's not as if he's never parked a car before.
Well done, Doug White...but I take it back. You're not a 'lucky bastard' after all. As for me, I'm holding out for the Big Time. Only hope I don't throw a hissy fit like Karen Black did in Airport 1975.