In a surprise reunion on NBC’s “TODAY” show, a passenger with no flying experience who landed a nose-diving plane and the pilot whose life he helped save shared a heartfelt hug more than a year in the making.
“We are connected for life,” pilot Ken Allen said to Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview.
“Occasionally I’ll have flashbacks about it, but just most importantly, how everything worked out and just it all came together,” passenger Darren Harrison said. “It was just a miracle in itself.”
During a flight over Florida in May 2022, Allen fell unconscious behind the controls of his single-engine Cessna 208 plane. He had suffered an aortic dissection, an often fatal tear that occurs in the inner layer of the body’s main artery.
Harrison reached over the incapacitated Allen to grab the controls of a nose-diving plane that was 12,000 feet in the air.
“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 told Savannah last year. “And at that point, I knew if I didn’t react, that we would die.”
Ken Allen and Darren Harrison on NBC's "TODAY" show on Friday.Nate Congleton / TODAY
With the help of air-traffic controller Robert Morgan, Harrison safely landed the plane at Palm Beach International Airport with Allen and another passenger onboard. Allen was rushed to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, where he underwent a nine-hour, lifesaving surgery by Dr. Nishant Patel.
The surgery was so serious that Patel left a voicemail for Allen’s wife saying he had a 50-50 chance at survival.
Allen’s recovery has been so remarkable that he has been cleared for the Federal Aviation Administration to fly again, 17 months after the ordeal.
“I feel great. I feel like my old self,” he said. “It’s incredible. I really didn’t think I was going to be able to, but I don’t give up easily, so I had to see it through.”
Since that harrowing day, Harrison has welcomed a daughter who is now 14 months old. His wife was seven months pregnant at the time of the emergency landing.
While Allen has expressed his gratitude for Harrison’s heroic actions, he also has been experiencing another emotion.
“I had so much guilt … that I endangered their lives,” Allen said. “I mean the first thing besides crying was apologizing to him and Russ. I felt so bad.”
“I had to grab him by the shoulders and say, ‘Stop. No more,’” Harrison said.
Aortic dissections often occur without any warning, so there was nothing Allen could’ve done, according to Patel.
“Most patients who have this problem have no clue that something like this can happen,” Patel said on TODAY.
In celebration of his return to the skies, Allen recently took Patel for a flight over Florida to show his gratitude. Meanwhile, Harrison has no hesitation about getting on a plane with Allen again.
“He’s flying my wife next weekend to Charleston,” Harrison said.