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Hero passenger who landed plane describes ‘scariest’ moments inside the cockpit

Darren Harrison told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that he had to act quickly when the pilot of his small plane fell unconscious.
/ Source: TODAY

In an exclusive interview on TODAY Monday, the passenger who landed a plane in Florida after his pilot fell unconscious last week recounted the "scariest" moment of the entire ordeal.

Darren Harrison, 39, was flying on a single-engine Cessna plane from the Bahamas when the pilot experienced a medical emergency and passed out, leaving Harrison, who had no flying experience, to land the plane. The only other passenger on board was the pilot's friend.

Related: Passenger who landed plane after pilot emergency: ‘It was a life or death situation’

He described reaching over the incapacitated pilot to grab the controls of the airplane.

"Just common sense, I guess, being on airplanes, because I knew if I went up and yanked that the airplane would stall," he told Savannah Guthrie. "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."

Harrison quickly understood how much danger he and his fellow passenger were in.

"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," Harrison said. "All I saw, when I came up the front, was water out the right window, and I knew it was coming quick. Very, very quickly."

Darren Harrison with Savannah Guthrie in a TODAY exclusive.
Darren Harrison with Savannah Guthrie in a TODAY exclusive.TODAY

Harrison said that when he saw the scene in front of him, he knew he had to do something.

"At that point, I knew if I didn't react, we would die," said Harrison, who is expecting a baby with his wife this summer.

He quickly perished any hesitations about trying to land the aircraft.

"When I was flying and saw the state of Florida, at that second, I knew, I’m going to land there," he said. "I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. I don’t know how it’s going to happen. But I’m going to have to land this airplane, because there is no other option."

After he guided the plane to the ground with no incident, the magnitude of the moment sunk in.

"I said thank you for everything, and I threw the headset on the dash and said the biggest prayer I’ve ever said in my life," he said. "That’s when all the emotions set in."

In an earlier preview clip, Harrison revealed to Savannah that he had felt calm during the scary incident.

“I was pretty calm and collected the whole time because I knew it was a life or death situation," he said. "Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re gonna die. And that’s what I did.”

The moment when Harrison landed the plane was captured on LiveATC audio. Harrison can be heard talking to air traffic controllers, saying that he has "no idea how to fly an airplane."

Robert Morgan, an air traffic controller and part-time flight instructor, was able to guide Harrison through the steps for landing. Morgan called Harrison his "best student ever" and said he was "overwhelmed" when the plane landed safely.

“My heart just kind of sank and I was just kind of thinking, ‘Thank God!’” said Morgan. “‘Thank god.’ I was just overwhelmed with excitement.”