After some time away, Darren Harrison is on his way home via a light aircraft. He’s joined by one other passenger and the journey appears to be going smoothly, but suddenly something shocking happens mid-flight. Darren finds himself in the pilot’s seat facing a terrifying task. No one could have foreseen the dramatic events of that flight, least of all Darren. The Florida native had climbed aboard with no inkling whatsoever of the drama that was about to come.
He just wanted to put his feet up and get back to his family after a vacation. Before the dramatic flight, Darren was enjoying a relaxing break in the Bahamas. He’s a king fisherman, you see, and so he’d spent most of his vacation out on a boat.
As someone who usually works as a flooring specialist for an interiors firm in Florida, the vacation made for a welcome change of scenery away from work. Though Darren was entering a very exciting period in his life, he and his spouse Brittany were set to become parents for the first time.
She had just entered into her third trimester while her husband was on his trip, so the expectant mom was closing in on a due date. All in all, it’s fair to say that things were looking great for Darren during that spell. His life seemed to be trending in the right direction. We imagine then that he was in pretty high spirits after his vacation. When it was time for Darren to bid farewell to the Bahamas, he joined another guide at a nearby airstrip where they would hop aboard the flight back home.
The pair weren’t hitching a ride on a standard passenger jet. Instead, they took their seats on a Cessna 208. These planes have been around since the 1980s and boast various models. Some of them are used for public flights, while others are called upon by armed forces across the world. The Cessna 208 is a single-engine propeller-driven plane and has a maximum capacity of 14 people.
It can fly a little over 1200 miles on a single tank of fuel, reaching speeds in excess of 210 miles per hour at its fastest. Unlike commercial jets, these planes have an operational ceiling of 25,000 feet. Darren and the other passenger took their seats while the pilot prepared for the coming journey with Florida the destination. After completing standard final checks, he revved up the single engine and took to the Bahamas skies in May 2022. But the trio had no idea what awaited them.
As we suggested earlier, everything was going to plan at first. Darren was chilling out in the area behind the captain’s chair, looking out at the clear sky. The dad-to-be literally had his feet up on the seat directly in front of him, having taken off his shoes. He didn’t have a care in the world at that stage. Unfortunately for Darren, though, that peace and tranquility were soon shattered in the most horrifying of circumstances.
It was a moment that many people fear when traveling on an airplane. What if something happens to the pilot? What would that mean for the rest of the passengers? The salesman was about to find out. Fidgeting in his chair in the cockpit, the pilot informs Darren and the other traveler.
“I got to tell you, I don’t feel good,” he says. Concerned, Brittany’s husband looks to gather a bit more information. Maybe the aviator is experiencing a bout of air sickness or something. If only it were that simple. The pilot responds, “I got a headache, and I’m fuzzy, and I just don’t feel right.
The last words you want to hear from your pilot anywhere. Darren quickly fires back, “What do we need to do?” and at that point, he doesn’t get a reply. The two passengers are met by silence. Mere moments after sharing his concerns, the captain has passed out in his chair.
Now, if this was a bigger plane with a larger crew, there’s no doubt there’d be a co-pilot on hand to deal with the situation. Yet, Darren doesn’t have that luxury here. He and the second passenger are on their own. Fortunately, the pilot hasn’t fallen forward onto the controls. He’s in an upright position on the chair.
Despite the slice of luck, though, Darren sees just how bad things have suddenly become. As the father-to-be makes his way to the front seats, he’s greeted by a nightmarish sight out of the window. The surface of the sea is quickly engulfing Darren’s field of vision. He knows that the aircraft is now spiraling out of the sky. “All I saw when I came up to the front was water out the right window, and I knew it was coming quick,” he says.
It was a scene that would have looked out of place in a Hollywood action movie. Yet, the situation was as real as it gets. In assessing the situation, Darren has to make a huge decision. Does he accept his fate and prepare for a crash landing into the water, or should he try to intervene? The sales worker has no piloting skills of his own to call upon.
Darren soon makes his choice. He has no intention of perishing on this flight. The father-to-be has everything to live for, including, of course, his pregnant wife at home. So, he approaches the pilot’s chair and glances at the controls. He’s got to act now if there’s any hope of getting out of this in one piece.
“I realized that we had now gone into a dive at a very fast rate,” he says. Carefully, Darren moves his arms past the prone captain, inching ever closer to the control stick. “So, I reached over his body and I grabbed the controls of the airplane and slowly started to pull back on the stick and turn.” Once he’s got a hold of it, he decides to steadily drag it back towards him while also moving to the right. He might not have piloting experience, but the fishing fan’s previous plane trips influenced his thinking here.
You see, Darren was aware that a sharp pull on the stick could make the aircraft’s engine stall. Not only that, but the speed had to be taken into consideration as well. “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,” he says. Thankfully, Darren’s slower approach takes the plane out of the dive and back into a steadier position. The hard work isn’t over yet, though, not by a long shot.
With a pilot still unconscious and the second passenger moving from the chair into his spot towards the ringer, at this point, Darren can finally sit at the control with no obstructions. He’s the de facto pilot. Yet, even this worrying development isn’t the end of his problems. A further issue soon rears its head. Knowing that he has to contact someone at Air Traffic Control, Darren grabs the captain’s headset.
But as he puts it on, the dad-to-be notices the connection cable is unraveled at the bottom. No amount of tinkering can fix it. How will he be able to call for help? “The plug’s gone off the end of the headphones, and so now I don’t have a headset to use, so I immediately turned the guy next to me and say, ‘I’m gonna need your headset,'” he says. The second traveler’s holding onto it.
He subsequently passes the vital piece of equipment to Darren, who gets in touch with Fort Pierce Tower. That’s part of Florida’s Treasure Coast International Airport, in case you were curious.