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  #1  
Old 11-29-2009, 11:17 PM
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aarvig aarvig is offline
 
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Default Anyone ever had a passenger have a panic attack in flight?

Having just recently attained my private pilots license I have been excited to share the joy of flying with my family members. This holiday weekend provided the excellent opportunity for that. I gave my mother-in-law and sister-in-law a nice tour of the St. Croix river valley and then returned to give my other sister-in-law a ride. My wife and three year old son wanted to go and since they had both been flying with me I put my sister-in-law in the right seat. She hadn't been in a small plane for over 20 years but had just recently flown commercial so she didn't think there would be any problems. I had just departed 18 and made an eastbound turn when my sister-in-law grabbed my arm and said "I don't think I can handle this anymore." I looked over at her and noticed she was sheet white, sweating profusely and shaking. This all came on very suddenly. I was suddenly aware that I was in an urgent situation. Was she going to panic and open a door, a window or grab the yoke and push it down? Was she going to puke or pass out? I didn't know. What I keenly remember thinking was..."fly the airplane." I immediately contacted the tower; "Anoka tower, cessna 567 is returning to the airport for immediate landing on 18." The intensity of her panic accelerated exponentially and I started to see her grabbing for handholds in the cockpit. I realized that part of my job was to keep her calm. I decided to talk to her in a very easy tone and just described everything the airplane was doing and when it would do it. Thankfully, the tower gave me immediate priority and cleared me to land right away. It felt like forever but the wheels eventually kissed the earth. I literally had to carry her out of the cockpit and lay her on the ground in the hanger in the shock recovery position. It took her a half hour to come down. It was unbelievable but she eventually calmed down. WHEW!! Hind site is 20/20 and one thing I failed to do was inform my wife in the back seat of what was going on. We only had three headsets in the plane between the four of us so my son was wearing it when the incident occurred. My son was talking and talking and it was a real distraction. The plane does not have an intercom to shut off the rear passengers so I cupped my mike and yelled into the back seat "get that headset off him." My wife did as I asked, I didn't explain why (I didn't feel like it was a priority at the time, I needed to fly the airplane and manage my panicky passenger) and all she noticed was the engine power reduction and the turn back to the airport. I didn't realize it but she thought we had an engine failure. Eventually, she figured out what was happening but I think I missed a valuable opportunity to have help in the situation plus I scared her. Lesson learned. While it is hard to screen for this type on sudden onset panic I will definitely be more inquisitive when I bring a passenger on board. Secondly, I will calmly communicate any issues to my back seat passengers. I am satisfied with the outcome but I think I could have handled it a little different. I am wondering if any of you have been faced with this type of situation and what did you do?
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  #2  
Old 11-30-2009, 06:13 AM
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Geico266 Geico266 is offline
 
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You did the right thing. If the passenger heard you declairing an emergency it may have made things worse. You remained in control of the airplane, turned around, got on the ground with everyone safe. Tell her whenever she is ready you will try it again, this time with lots rum & coke!

I have had to "explain" things to my wife also, never good for domestic tranquility. Remaining calm and not showing emotion can work against you in some instances where you need action now without question, however, barking orders to the wife never goes over well at my house. We now have a verbal clue to each other. When we are really serious and need immediate "action" I call her by her first name, then ask her to do something, and vis-versa. Maybe a little more "pre-planning" with her would help your wife if a similar situation arises again. You want her to be comfortable flying also.
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Last edited by Geico266 : 12-01-2009 at 04:29 AM.
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  #3  
Old 11-30-2009, 11:40 AM
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Default Panicky First Flights

I've never had an experience anywhere near what you had, even though I've offered lots of relatives rides and had few takers.

Several years ago, my father-in-law said he'd never been up in an airplane and he'd like to take a short flight over his hometown and his property. So naturally, I obliged him. As soon as the 150 cleared the height of the trees and we could see for several miles, I could sense him tensing up. All he said was, "Wup-Wup." Not being sure what that meant, I asked him if he wanted to return to the airport. He said he would be ok, and I continued the flight with very shallow banking and very small power changes. After we landed and he got out of the airplane, he told me that was two airplane flights he'd had. Puzzled, I replied, "But you told me you'd never been up before." He promptly said, "That's right. That was my first and my last!"

And then, there's my mother-in-law. I love her and she loves me, but I can't even get her to sit in an airplane. She says she believes what the Bible says about flying. "LO(W), I will be with you always." I have great parents-in-law, even though they don't like flying.

Aaron, as for your experience, there were probably two or three ways you could have handled it successfully. And you certainly found one of them. My hat's off to you. Congratulations. Flying is a learning experience, and sometimes the education is more about the psychology of your passengers (and your own) than with things like aviating and navigating.
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  #4  
Old 11-30-2009, 11:40 AM
Flying Scotsman Flying Scotsman is offline
 
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Very nice job...handled professionally and calmly. Exactly the right thing to do.

One thing I've always done is "brief" new passengers (new to GA)...not so much formally, as to scare them ("in the event of a fire or forced landing..." baaaad things to say), but more about attitude and options. I make sure they know that it's perfectly okay, at ANY time, to say they don't want to go, or they want to land, and that we can stop the flight (at the closest airport), no problem whatsoever, no bad feelings, nothing. I have NEVER done the "c'mon, you're not *afraid*, are ya?" kind of harassing of potential passengers (I've seen it done...very uncool).

I think sometimes that not being in control makes people anxious, and giving them some of that back by allowing them to decide that flying (or *this* flight) is too much for them makes them feel a little more calm. I let them know they can ask ANY question, at any time (except for take-off and landing, when I'm busy), and they'll get an honest answer. And I give them things to do...just pointing out landmarks ("see that? that's where I work!", etc.) can help, too, to take their mind off of the "mystery" of flight and more on the "neat" aspects.

But in the end, if a passenger has a panic attack like that, sounds like you handled it perfectly...you never really know how someone will react to flying until you get them in a plane!

Nicely done...
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  #5  
Old 11-30-2009, 12:02 PM
Sid Lambert Sid Lambert is offline
 
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For a new pilot you handled this perfectly. I know ATP's that would have been rattled with the situation. You'll make for a good pilot.
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  #6  
Old 11-30-2009, 01:13 PM
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dedgemon dedgemon is offline
 
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Default Glider flight

Once, when giving a ride in a two place sailplane I had a somewhat similar experience.

I was starting takeoff and just as I became airborne the stick went rigid. My "passenger" had freaked and grabbed the stick as a handhold. Here I am "trying" to fly formation on the tow plane. I just sort of held my own up to about 1000' feet until I could persuade him to LET GO. The freaky part of this to me was that he was a rated power pilot. You can't ever tell.
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  #7  
Old 11-30-2009, 01:32 PM
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flytoboat flytoboat is offline
 
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Default The passenger almost made me panic...

Flying a Cherokee 140 out of a farmers grass strip with my Brother-in-law in the back seat and his 80 year old mother in the right seat (easier to get her in the right seat than the back seat of a Cherokee and she did love to fly). Right as we became airborne (soft field takeoff) she decided to adjust her position in her seat and grabbed the yoke as a handhold to pull herself up.
It was all I could do to hold the yoke to keep us from pitching up and losing airspeed but my brother-in-law quickly spotted the problem and grabbed her arms. That was too close for me...
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  #8  
Old 11-30-2009, 01:49 PM
breister breister is offline
 
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Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flying Scotsman View Post
Very nice job...handled professionally and calmly. Exactly the right thing to do.

One thing I've always done is "brief" new passengers (new to GA)...not so much formally, as to scare them ("in the event of a fire or forced landing..." baaaad things to say), but more about attitude and options. I make sure they know that it's perfectly okay, at ANY time, to say they don't want to go, or they want to land, and that we can stop the flight (at the closest airport), no problem whatsoever, no bad feelings, nothing. I have NEVER done the "c'mon, you're not *afraid*, are ya?" kind of harassing of potential passengers (I've seen it done...very uncool).

I think sometimes that not being in control makes people anxious, and giving them some of that back by allowing them to decide that flying (or *this* flight) is too much for them makes them feel a little more calm. I let them know they can ask ANY question, at any time (except for take-off and landing, when I'm busy), and they'll get an honest answer. And I give them things to do...just pointing out landmarks ("see that? that's where I work!", etc.) can help, too, to take their mind off of the "mystery" of flight and more on the "neat" aspects.

But in the end, if a passenger has a panic attack like that, sounds like you handled it perfectly...you never really know how someone will react to flying until you get them in a plane!

Nicely done...
Ditto on always briefing, especially to first time small plane riders.

Things I ALWAYS include:
- Where they CAN touch hold, as well as DON'T touch/hold
- Things to give them "power" over the flight - e.g. "If at ANY time you are uncomfortable, nauseous, or just tired of being airborne just tell me and we will head straight back"

A lot of jokes spring to mind about handling that situation like Arnold Schwarznegger, but you did just fine. Key is to talk to the passenger explaining everything you are about to do before you do it, and keep your voice calm. Unfortunately, once you're airborne there aren't exactly a whole lot of options!
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  #9  
Old 11-30-2009, 03:01 PM
cnpeters cnpeters is offline
 
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Happened with my flying loathing wife (hates the motions that happen, not a fear of flying itself). She honored me with being the first passenger after getting my private - panic set in climbing out, hyperventilation, etc. Circled right back around to the field, always double checking she didn't grab anything (was told in pre-flight not too touch). Not as scary as the first post, but I will never tempt fate again.
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  #10  
Old 11-30-2009, 03:35 PM
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BikePilot BikePilot is offline
 
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Wow, that sounds like quite the ordeal! I've not seen such a thing (I've been a passenger more than pilot though). I have given many people rides on the back of the motorcycle which can also elicit a similar response I think. There its easier to just stop and let them hop off if things got bad (I've never had to resort to that). So far I've managed to screen out people who might not be up it and I usually start with some low speed manuvering in a parking lot.

I've often thought that it would be nice if the right side controls could be disable or removed for flying non-pilot passengers around.
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