WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The pilot who passed out while flying a small plane to South Florida, forcing a passenger to take over and land the plane safely earlier this month, got to thank the first responders, doctors, air traffic controllers and the passenger who saved his life.
Kenneth Allen, 64, of Lake Wales, spoke at a news conference for the first time Thursday since the incident May 10 that made national news.
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He was flying passenger Darren Harrison, 39, back from the Bahamas when he suffered a medical event. Also along for the ride was Russ Frank, a friend of Allen’s.
“So I remember telling Russ and Darren that I didn’t feel well. My head was pounding and I was seeing some little blue lights shining through, sparkling through here,” Allen said. “And they asked me ‘What does that mean?’ I said ‘I don’t know I got a really bad headache,’ and then I remember them poking me on the side of my arm saying ‘Stay with me, stay with me.’ Well, then that was it. I can’t really recall anything until my guys over here were pulling me out of the airplane.”
Allen suffered a tear in his aorta, a major valve in the heart. Doctors at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center said it kills about half of all patients before they even make it to the hospital.
Harrison took over the plane and, with the help of air traffic controllers, landed it safely at Palm Beach International Airport.
Palm Beach Fire Rescue transported Allen first to St. Mary’s Medical Center, where doctors ruled out a stroke as the cause. He was then transferred to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, where he underwent surgery to fix his aorta.
“The first thing I said to Darren when I talked to him, ‘I’m sorry for putting you, your life in danger,’ and I told Darren the same thing. I got some guilt for that,” Allen said.
Allen said God had a plan, because every step in the story, from having passengers on the plane that day to making the decision to go to Palm Beach instead of Fort Pierce or Boca Raton, worked to Allen’s advantage.
Even one of the air traffic controllers who helped Harrison land the plane wasn’t supposed to be working that day, and was the only flight instructor in the tower, guiding Harrison to safety.
“I was just doing my job,” said controller Robert Morgan. “I would have, you know, done anything I could to make a successful outcome, and it feels good to help somebody and this is all like over the top for me. I never expected any of this, I just felt we’d kind of go back to everyday working and it’s really going out to be a good story.”
“If you don’t think God was with us that day, then just listen to some of this stuff and you’ll hopefully understand,” Allen said.
Allen, who has been flying commercially since 2016, said he still is not cleared to fly yet. He has to heal and get approval from the FAA.
“Tomorrow (Friday) I was supposed to take Darren to the Bahamas, to Nassau, for him and his wife’s sort of honeymoon,” Allen said. “He’s gotta find another ride.”