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Pilot who fell unconscious midflight is home from hospital, doctor calls it ‘miraculous’

The pilot who fell unconscious in a Cessna plane that was landed by a passenger with no flying experience has survived a severe cardiac event.
/ Source: TODAY

The pilot who fell unconscious last week during a flight landed by a passenger with no idea how to fly a plane has made a recovery that his doctor is calling "a miracle."

The ability of passenger Darren Harrison, 39, to successfully land a Cessna 208 that was in a nosedive over Florida not only saved all three people on board from crashing, it gave doctors a chance to save the pilot.

Harrison landed the plane at Palm Beach International Airport, where emergency personnel then rushed the pilot to St. Mary’s Medical Center before he was transferred to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center.

The pilot, whose name has not been released, is now out of the hospital and resting at home after he underwent surgery for an aortic dissection, according to the hospital. An aortic dissection is a life-threatening emergency in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery.

Dr. Nishant Patel, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center who treated the pilot, outlined how long the odds were that the man would survive the landing, the trips to the two hospitals and then the surgery.

"Fifty percent of patients won’t make it to the hospital, and then 50% of patients that do make it to the hospital will pass away within 24 hours without prompt diagnosis and treatment," Patel said on TODAY Tuesday.

The pilot was released from the hospital on Monday.

It's a "really quite miraculous recovery, miraculous story," Patel said.

Emergency personnel initially thought the pilot had potentially suffered a stroke before doctors at St. Mary's discovered a tear in his aorta, according to Patel. He was quickly transferred to the second hospital for emergency surgery.

"First thing he asked me (after the surgery) is, 'Doc, when am I going to go home?' which I thought was really quite amazing," Patel said. "Everything about this guy is just truly, truly amazing. He definitely understands everything that happened, and how severe the situation was on so many different levels before the hospital, in the operating room, and during recovery."

Patel said the pilot was in great health before the cardiac event and has already done "remarkably well" in his recovery.

Harrison, who had no previous flight experience, spoke in an exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie about how he remained calm during the flight and the "scariest" moments during the entire ordeal.

He added that he has no interest in becoming a pilot and that his wife, who is expecting their first child in August, would put a stop to it anyway. Harrison is now trying to answer the deeper questions raised by his ordeal.

"I’m still looking for that and I’m sure it’ll come with time, but I do often think, 'Why me? Why did I not die?'" he said. "I’m sure I’ll get the answer one day, but yes, there’s a purpose behind it."