Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 13:03 UK

'Blinded' pilot meets RAF rescuer


Pilot Jim O'Neill: 'I wasn't panicking at all'

When solo pilot Jim O'Neill lost his eyesight at 5,500ft (1,676m) as a result of a stroke he was having, little did he imagine the extraordinary rescue that would see him land his plane unscathed.

The 65-year-old was flying a four-seater Cessna from Glasgow to Colchester when he suffered the stroke last November.

Unable to follow instructions from air traffic controllers attempting to guide him to the nearest air strip, RAF crews scrambled a plane to guide him down.

Mr O'Neill, from Marks Tey in Essex, has now returned to RAF Linton-on-Ouse to meet and thank Wing Commander Paul Gerrard, who shepherded him to land safely.

He described the reunion as a "very special day" and said: "What else is there to say but thank you?"

Glasgow-born Mr O'Neill, who has 18 years' flying experience, was overhead at RAF Leeming in Northallerton when he encountered difficulty and sent a mayday alert.

Despite air traffic controllers' efforts, Mr O'Neill was unable to land the plane at nearby Full Sutton Airfield near York and was directed to RAF Linton-on-Ouse.

Radio instructions

Wing Cdr Gerrard, chief flying instructor at RAF Linton-on-Ouse, flew his Tucano T1 about 50m away from the Cessna to bring Mr O'Neill safely down.

The pilot flew alongside Mr O'Neill and he shepherded him to the base with instructions over the radio.

Recalling his ordeal, Mr O'Neill said: "The controllers were wonderful and they just kind of took over and all I had to do was try to do what I was told.

"And then, when they offered to send a Tucano up - well, I was overwhelmed.

Cessna aircraft involved in incident

"I thought, that's me home and dry. So when he came alongside, and asked if I could see him - I couldn't see him - but I just followed his instructions and, as I say, when I got down low enough, I could see the numbers on the runway. I knew when I saw those, I knew I was home then."

Mr O'Neill took eight attempts to land the plane, but with the wing commander's help he was able to put down safely after two bounces on the runway.

He said: "I wasn't panicking at all because I had a job to do, which was to get the plane on the ground.

"I was intent on doing that, all I was trying to do was to get the plane down, I was concentrating so hard on that I didn't really have any emotions - I just remember trying to comply with Paul's instructions."

Mr O'Neill said he did not realise the enormity of the situation at the time.

"It probably didn't sink in till three days later."

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Blind pilot guided to land by RAF
07 Nov 08 |  North Yorkshire

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