8 Nov 2008

Pilot blinded in mid-air lands Cessna safely

7:40 am on 8 November 2008

A British pilot went blind in mid-air and was saved by a Royal Air Force plane which helped him to land.

The pilot, Jim O'Neill, suffered a stroke at about 15,000 feet while flying a Cessna aircraft from western Scotland to Essex in eastern England.

After he radioed for help, an RAF training aircraft was sent to fly alongside him.

RAF Wing Commander Paul Gerrard scrambled his training aircraft from a base in Yorkshire, and flew it to within about 50 metres of the Cessna and talked Mr O'Neill safely down.

"He used his voice to guide (O'Neill) down by telling him to turn left and right, to lower the plane and to do his pre-landing checks," said Wing Commander Andy Hynd, who assisted.

"At very short range he still couldn't see the runway and it was only at the last minute that he could. He landed about halfway down and came to a halt just at the end."

Doctors say Mr O'Neill is likely to regain his sight.

Mr O'Neill's son, Douglas, says his 65-year-old father tried to land at one airfield but air traffic control thought an emergency landing at an RAF base would be preferable.

"They had to do about four fly arounds before he felt composed enough to land," he said.