Trainee pilot makes emergency landing after instructor blacks out

8:40 am on 2 September 2019

A student pilot has made a dramatic emergency landing at a Perth airport during his first lesson aircraft after his New Zealand-born instructor collapsed mid-flight.

View from the cockpit of a light plane during flight outside.

An air traffic operator talked student pilot Max Sylvester through an emergency landing at Jandakot Airport. Photo: 123rf

Max Sylvester, who is in his 30s, called air traffic control just over an hour into his lesson on Saturday afternoon after realising he was alone at the controls of the small Cessna.

"He's leaning over my shoulder, I'm trying to keep him up but he keeps falling down," Mr Sylvester can be heard telling the controller.

It was Mr Sylvester's first lesson in a two-seater as his wife and three children watched him from the ground.

The air traffic operator kept the trainee calm as he talked him through an emergency landing at Jandakot Airport.

"Do you know how to operate the airplane?" the operator asks.

"This is my first lesson," Mr Sylvester tells him. "We're tracking where you are at the moment," the operator says.

"You're doing a really great job. I know this is really stressful. But you're going to do an amazing job and we're going to help you get down to the ground, OK?"

The controller explains to Mr Sylvester how to reduce the plane's speed, then discusses the landing.

"Have you landed any aircraft before?" he asks.

"No, I haven't," Mr Sylvester responds.

With his instructor still unconscious, Mr Sylvester tells air traffic control he tried to lift the man's head up, but there was no response.

The controller encourages Mr Sylvester to focus on landing the plane and reinforces that he is doing well.

"Well my flight instructor did say I was the best student he'd had," Mr Sylvester replies.

He finally landed safely after nearly an hour.

His New Zealand-born instructor, Robert Mollard, is in a stable condition in hospital.

'This could have gone way, way bad'

Chuck McElwee, owner and operator of Air Australia International, which employs the pilot, said he had not witnessed a situation like it in his 28 years running the flying school.

"This could have gone way, way bad," he said.

"But everything worked out right, and it worked right, mostly because of the cooperation of the tower, the fact that he was a student - that he was dedicated and he knew what he was doing and he pulled it off - and that my flight instructor went up to the tower and they all worked together."

Mr McElwee said Mr Sylvester's wife and three young children joined them at the headquarters in Jandakot while the plane was still in the air.

"She was a rock, let me tell you, she held it together all the way along the line," Mr McElwee said of Mr Sylvester's wife.

"The only thing that we worried about was after ... he was on an adrenaline high.

"We told his wife not to let him drive … until he had calmed down."

Mr Sylvester received his first flying solo certificate, although Mr McElwee admitted it was probably not the maiden solo flight he had been expecting.