Passenger who landed plane after pilot emergency: ‘It was a life or death situation’

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The man who leapt into action and landed a plane earlier this week after his pilot passed out revealed to TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that he felt one surprising emotion amid the crisis: calm.

In an exclusive interview with TODAY, Darren Harrison, who had no prior experience as a pilot, said that he didn't really stress about the scary situation until the plane was safely on the ground.

WATCH: Savannah Guthrie's full interview with Darren Harrison, the hero passenger who landed a plane when the pilot passed out.

"Somebody asked me the other day what my heart rate was, or what I thought my heart rate was, when all of that was going on, and I said 'Probably in the 90s,'" Harrison, an interior designer, said. "And they said 'What about when it was all over?' And I said it was probably 160."

Harrison, who is expecting a child with his wife this summer, said that during the landing, he had "no time to panic."

Harrison sat down with Savannah in an exclusive interview about his experience. (TODAY)
Harrison sat down with Savannah in an exclusive interview about his experience. (TODAY)

"By the time I stopped the plane, that's when it hit me," Harrison, 39, continued, as Savannah looked at him in awe. "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’s full interview with Savannah will air on TODAY on Monday, May 16th.

Last week, Harrison and one other passenger were flying back from a fishing trip in the Bahamas when their pilot experienced a medical emergency and passed out. Harrison and his fellow flier were able to move the pilot and Harrison accessed the controls.


The entire incident was captured on LiveATC audio. Harrison can be heard talking to air traffic controllers, revealing how alarming the situation was.

“I’ve got a serious situation here, my pilot has gone incoherent,” Harrison said. “I have no idea how to fly the airplane.”

When asked what his position was, Harrison told controllers that he had "no idea."

"I see the coast of Florida in front of me and I have no idea," he said.

Through careful guidance, the air traffic controller was able to talk Harrison through the steps for landing. By 12:30 p.m., the single-engine Cessna 208 was safely on the ground at Palm Beach International Airport. Robert Morgan, the controller who guided Harrison, called him his "best student ever."

“My heart just kind of sank and I was just kind of thinking, 'Thank God!'" said Morgan, who is also a part-time flight instructor, recalling the moment Harrison said the plane had been safely landed. "'Thank god.' I was just overwhelmed with excitement."