RAF Pilot Credited With Saving His Life
The Royal Air Force saved the day last week by guiding a pilot
in distress to a safe landing, but the rescue was quite out of the
ordinary because the pilot of the single-engine Cessna was
Forty minutes into a flight from Scotland to Essex, 65 year-old
Jim O'Neill experienced a stroke. Cruising along at 15,000 feet,
O'Neill began a descent into Full Sutton Airfield near York, the
Daily Mirror reported.
At 5,500 feet, O'Neill started having difficulty seeing the
plane's instruments, and advised air traffic control of his
predicament. Descending through 2,000 feet on approach to Full
Sutton airport, he was unable to see the runway and was diverted by
ATC to RAF Linton-on-Ouse.
Controller Richard Eggleton said, "You could hear the
apprehension in his voice over the radio and the frustration he was
experiencing. I kept saying 'Are you visual?' and he would reply
'No sir, negative, I'm sorry sir'. He kept on apologizing."
"I have had some experience of flying myself and I have been in
a glider myself," Eggleton said. "Being up there on your own
without sight - it doesn't bear thinking about."
Scrambled from Linton-on-Ouse, an RAF team located the Cessna
and coached the pilot as he made numerous attempts to land. Paced
by a Tucano T-1 jet, O'Neill made eight approaches before getting
Wing commander Paul Gerrard said, "You are doing OK, carry on,
can you see the runway?" After two bounces, O'Neill landed safely,
coming to a stop at the end of the runway.
"For me I was just glad to help a fellow aviator in distress. I
was just part of a team," Gerrard said. "Landing an aircraft
literally blind needs someone to be right there to say 'left a bit,
right a bit, stop, down'. On the crucial final approach, even with
radar assistance, you need to take over visually. That's when
having a fellow pilot there was so important."
From his hospital bed, O'Neill said, "It was terrifying.
Suddenly I couldn't see the dials in front of me. I should not be
alive. I owe my life - and those of dozens of people I could have
crash landed on -- to the RAF."