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Pilot lands after going blind


What an incredible story from the UK and well done by the RAF.


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."

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Not to take any thing away from this marvelous rescue but many seemingly impossible feats have been performed during the development of aviation. Jimmy Doolittle, in a test for Sperry gyroscopes, took off and landed his plane without benefit of any outside vision. This was ensured by the cockpit windows being completely enclosed with material that could not be seen through.


These two pilots got it right even though it took 7 attempts to do so. That may be the most miraculous part, that after being nearly blinded he kept going like the pink bunny.


A similar but more routine example of this kind of co-operation is the landing of the space shuttle which is accompanied by a chase plane which reports by radio how well he is doing in lining up with the runway left/right as well as how close he is. The space shuttle must do it right the first time; there is no going around for another try.


Again, glad these guys got it right.


Best regards,


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