View Full Version : Flying Blind

Nov 7, 2008, 07:29 PM
Great story here :)

Blind pilot guided to land by RAF

A pilot who suddenly went blind while flying his plane at 5,500ft (1,676m) was guided in to land by an RAF plane.

A plane was scrambled from the RAF base at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire to help stricken pilot Jim O'Neill, 65.

He was flying a two-seater Cessna aircraft from Glasgow Prestwick Airport to Colchester, Essex, when he suffered a stroke and lost his sight.

The RAF plane flew alongside Mr O'Neill and the pilot shepherded him to the base with instructions over the radio.

Mr O'Neill, who has 18 years' flying experience, was overhead at RAF Leeming in Northallerton when he encountered difficulty and sent a mayday alert last Friday.

Operations commanding officer at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, Wing Cdr Andy Hynd, said: "At first he believed he was being blinded by sunlight because he had difficulty seeing his instruments and so he declared an emergency.

Douglas O'Neill says his father saw the dials shining brightly before he lost his sight

"He was handed over to us from Leeming and when we spoke to him he said he was happy to continue flying.

"However, air traffic control noticed his aircraft was descending and turning and he was asked again whether he wanted to continue at which point he said no."

Despite air traffic controllers' efforts, Mr O'Neill was unable to land the plane at nearby Full Sutton Airfield near York and was directed to RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Mr Hynd said: "He still couldn't see the runway here and he was starting to get distressed so we thought it was best to send a plane to him."

Wing Cdr Paul Gerrard, chief flying instructor, flew his Tucano T1 about 50m next to the Cessna to bring Mr O'Neill safely down.

Mr Hynd said: "He used his voice to guide him [Mr O'Neill] down by telling him to turn left and right, to lower the plane and to do his pre-landing checks.

"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.

"The RAF routinely practises shepherding but we are usually shepherding lost aircraft, we are not used to shepherding blind pilots, which is what makes this amazing.

"It was a fantastic team effort from all those involved and we're proud that we could get him to the ground safely."

Mr O'Neill was checked over by RAF medics before being transferred to Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex.http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/north_yorkshire/7715345.stm

Nov 7, 2008, 07:30 PM
Quite an accomplishment
Thanks for sharing

Woof, Woof - Dawg http://homepage.mac.com/k.j.vinson/pawprint.gif

Nov 7, 2008, 09:42 PM
that is an awesome story and i'm glad that it was a safe landing considering the circumstances. requires trust, confidence, and caution.

Nov 7, 2008, 09:47 PM
that would suck, but very cool story.
glad he was safe.

Nov 7, 2008, 10:48 PM
Read this earlier, and it is an amazing story.

Nov 8, 2008, 01:20 AM
yay my work did a good thing.

Nov 8, 2008, 03:05 PM
Wow, saw this on the news, amazing story...

Nov 8, 2008, 05:41 PM
A very good story indeed. :)

Nov 8, 2008, 10:49 PM
The more I read about this, the more I'm impressed with the people involved.

Anyone see exactly what kind of airplane was being flown? The articles just say "small Cessna", which to me can be anything from a 150 to a Citation X (yeah, I know it's not a Citation in this case). Anyway, I'm curious.

Nov 9, 2008, 04:15 AM
A four-seater, apparently. More detail from the Independent:
Pilot lands without a scratch after going blind at 15,000ft
Man suffers stroke while alone in aircraft, then is guided down by RAF wing commander flying next to him
By Cahal Milmo, Chief reporter
Saturday, 8 November 2008

When the instruments on Jim O'Neill's four-seater Cessna aircraft became difficult to read, he assumed it was the glare of the sunlight as he flew over north England at 15,000ft. It was only when the dials blurred completely that he realised the full horror of his predicament: he was a solo pilot who had suddenly gone blind.

Struggling with the aftermath of a mid-flight stroke which had put pressure on his optical nerve and robbed him of his sight in one eye and left him with very limited sight in the other Mr O'Neill found himself unable to follow instructions from civilian air trafficcontrollers attempting to guide him to the nearest airstrip. Instead, an extraordinary rescue was launched when RAF staff, overhearing the emergency, offered to send a military plane to fly alongside Mr O'Neill and shepherd him in to land, issuing instructions to him over the radio.

Details of the amazing operation were revealed yesterday. Mr O'Neill, 65, a businessman with 18 years experience, was flying from Prestwick airport in Scotland to an airfield near Colchester, Essex on 31 October. At the end of the ordeal, he managed to land at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire and emerged without a scratch.

Obeying orders to turn left or right and adjust his height and speed, it took seven attempts for Mr O'Neill, who runs a travel and conference booking agency, to manoeuvre his aircraft into the correct position, while a senior RAF instructor flew alongside him at a distance of just 150ft away.

Wing Commander Paul Gerrard, 42, was on a routine training sortie in a Tucano T1 turboprop plane when he received the order to come to the businessman's aid. "For me, I was just glad to help a fellow aviator in distress," said W/Cdr Gerrard. "I was just part of a team. 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 why having a fellow pilot there was so important."

Emergency crews were scrambled to meet Mr O'Neill's aircraft as it landed with two bounces halfway along the runway at the RAF base. He came to a halt just a few yards short of the end of the runway and was treated by RAF paramedics before being taken to a neurological unit. The blindness suffered by Mr O'Neill, who last night remained seriously ill at the Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex, was caused by a haemorrhage in his brain putting pressure on the nerves at the back of his eyes, causing sudden blindness. Doctors must wait to find out whether or not Mr O'Neill has suffered permanent blindness. Once the swelling in his brain recedes, it is likely he will regain at least some of his vision.

Speaking from his bed, the pilot said he feared for his life and for the lives of people beneath his flight path, as he struggled for 45 minutes to make the correct approach and visualise the runway. It was only at the very last moment that the pilot saw enough to realise he was about to touch down and raise the nose of his plane to land.

Mr O'Neill said: "It was terrifying. Suddenly I couldn't see. The dials in front of me were a blur. I was helpless at the controls. I should not be alive. I owe my life and those of dozens of people I could have crashed on to the RAF." The entrepreneur, whose company earlier this year raised money for the Essex Air Ambulance, initially tried to land at Full Sutton airfield, near York, after issuing a mayday call and dropping to an altitude of 2,000ft.

Controllers explained how Mr O'Neill repeatedly apologised as he battled to reach safety, growing increasingly anxious as the drama unfolded.

Richard Eggleton, a radar operator who helped guide the blinded pilot, said: "You could hear the apprehension in his voice over the radio and the frustration he was experiencing."

The pilot's son, Douglas O'Neill, said his father had faced an almost impossible situation when he became blinded in one eye and had limited vision in the other. He said: "If you were driving a car it would be bad enough, but at 14,000ft it's a whole different ball game. He thought 'If I don't land the plane I will be dead,' but he showed incredible determination."

Nov 9, 2008, 10:32 AM
Ah - thanks. That really narrows it down, actually. I'm guessing a turbocharged 182. It's the only Cessna 4-seater I can think of that anyone would bother taking to 15,000'.

Although really, I can't think of a reason someone flying around the UK would take a non-pressurized airplane that high. Interesting.

Nov 9, 2008, 10:35 AM
I'm thinking that someone confused metres with feet. 5,500 feet was the earlier version. Someone probably read this as 5,000 metres and then retranslated it to 15,000 feet.

Nov 9, 2008, 10:40 AM
I'm thinking that someone confused metres with feet. 5,500 feet was the earlier version. Someone probably read this as 5,000 metres and then retranslated it to 15,000 feet.

That would make a LOT more sense!

Nov 9, 2008, 10:50 AM
Easier to breath, too.

Nov 13, 2008, 12:53 PM
Great life-affirming story, I saw it on the BBC World Service when it broke. Thanks for posting it.


Nov 17, 2008, 09:40 AM
A fitting allegory for life: flying blind.

IJ Reilly
Nov 17, 2008, 10:21 AM
That would make a LOT more sense!

Well yes, the airplane needs to be pressurized at 15,000 feet or the pilot on oxygen. Also his altitude tells us he was flying in an easterly direction, if that's of any interest.

Quite a story. I wonder if the limited vision he did have gave him any sense of the horizon. I take it he did. Without that at least, he'd have gone into a death spiral very quickly, before anyone could help him keep the wings level.

Nov 17, 2008, 10:31 AM
Interesting story with a great outcome in that he landed okay.

Quite a story. I wonder if the limited vision he did have gave him any sense of the horizon. I take it he did. Without that at least, he'd have gone into a death spiral very quickly, before anyone could help him keep the wings level.
He might have had an autopilot.

Or simply let go of the controls. A properly trimmed AC can continue to fly fairly well for a while.

Of course when help arrived, he could then trust their instructions to keep the wings level.

Anyhow, he did very well to survive this situation. Hat's off, sir.

BTW, anybody here fly with Vertigo for an extended time? Very weird sensation -- especially when in the clouds on instruments.

IJ Reilly
Nov 17, 2008, 10:50 AM
I suppose an autopilot is a possibility -- even just a simple wing-leveler would help a lot. And assuming the airplane was trimmed, letting go of the controls (a most counterintuitive response!) may help, but I suspect not for long. I mean, the trim would have to be perfect. Then if the airplane started to descend or climb, assuming you could tell, some control input would be required. Now you're at great risk of dropping a wing, pulling back on the yoke to correct... you know the rest.

I've never experienced vertigo in the airplane, probably because I'm not instrument rated and stay out of those clouds. Without reference to the horizon or any instruments (which the pilot reported he could not read), you're going to be screwed in a hurry. I'm going to guess that the limited vision he had out of one eye gave him a reference to the horizon. Whatever visual facility he did have, he kept his cool and did not panic. That alone is a great credit. I've been on that hairy edge a couple of times, so I can really appreciate the difficulty of keeping your head about you in bad situations.

Nov 17, 2008, 11:14 AM
It might depend on exactly how much the instruments blurred - it's possible he could no longer read the numbers but could still see enough to interpret the attitude indicator.

I'd love to know more about this, but the media tends to break a story, and then completely forget about it.