The hero passenger who miraculously landed a plane on his own has insisted he never once thought he would die — even remaining “calm and collected” in a high-speed nosedive when his pilot first fell sick.
Darren Harrison, 39, told the “Today” show in an interview that aired Monday that he relied on “common sense” to level the nosediving single-engine Cessna while reaching across the body of the sick pilot.
“I knew if I didn’t react, then we would die,” the expectant dad recalled nonchalantly.
“I was pretty calm and collected the whole time because I knew it was a life or death situation. Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re gonna die.”
“And that’s what I did,” he said, insisting that “the hand of God was on that plane” guiding him to safety.
The Florida dad-to-be, a flooring salesman, said his bravery was spurred on by the thought of his seven-month pregnant wife, Britney, and their impending arrival, a baby daughter.
“I was climbing to the front and that plane was in a dive I was just looking going, ‘I can’t die today. Britney’s pregnant, I’ve got a baby on the way — not today. Today’s not my day,” he said.
Even so, “the thought never crossed my mind to call and tell my wife ‘bye,’” he said.
“In my mind, I knew I wasn’t gonna die.”
Despite Harrison’s calm, he revealed that the very scenario he encountered Tuesday last week while returning from a fishing trip in the Bahamas was one he had long feared.
“My nightmare’s always been when I go on flights like this, ‘What happens if something health-wise happens to the pilot? What’s gonna happen?’” he told “Today,” saying he had thought about it “many a time.”
When it finally happened, he had been “just back there relaxing” in the plane, even taking a photo of his shoe-less feet up on a chair, when the pilot suddenly called to him and the other passenger.
The pilot made a strange movement and told the pair, “‘Guys, I gotta tell you, I don’t feel good … I got a headache and I’m fuzzy and I just don’t feel right,’” Harrison recalled.
“I said, ‘What do we need to do?’ … but at that point he didn’t respond at all. He was already done,” he said, saying the pilot “wasn’t responding to us yelling at him.”
“By the time I had moved forward to the front of the airplane, I realized that we had now gone into a dive at a very fast rate. All I saw when I came up to the front was water out the right window and I knew it was coming quick,” he said.
“I grabbed the controls of the airplane and slowly started to pull back on the stick and turn,” he said, saying he relied on “just common sense.”
“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.
“That’s the scariest part of the whole story,” he insisted.
Once leveled, he tried to grab the pilot’s headphones to reach ground control — but it was broken with frayed wires.
“I immediately turn to the guy next to me and say, ‘I’m gonna need your headset because I got to talk to somebody,’” he recalled.
He then got through to Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller and part-time flight instructor, who was able to guide Harrison to his first landing after he spotted the outline of Florida.
“When I was flying and saw the state of Florida, at that second I knew, ‘I’m gonna land the airplane,’” he recalled.
“I don’t know what the outcome is gonna be, I don’t know how it’s gonna happen, but I’m gonna have to land this airplane because there’s no other option,” he said.
Once the barefoot passenger got them to safety, he “felt so comfortable” flying he even offered to park the plane at the airport, he said.
He finally got to say “thank you for everything” and “threw the headset on the dash and said the biggest prayer I’ve ever said in my life,” he recalled.
“That’s when all the emotions set in. It was a thankful prayer for the safety and everything that happened,” he said.
The ending of his prayer was devoted to the sick pilot, who Harrison said is expected to leave a hospital at some point Monday even though he initially “was not expected to live.”
He then got to call his wife, saying that it was “one of the biggest reliefs because I was safe.”
However, it instead terrified her to see his name pop up on a call at least 20 minutes before she knew he was supposed to land. She feared a similar tragedy as the one that befell her sister, who was six months pregnant when she lost her husband, she told Savannah Guthrie.
“When I saw his name on the phone, I said, ‘God, we can’t do this again. I don’t think I could do it again,’” she recalled.
“And thankfully, we didn’t have to.”