Science | PSHE

Passenger lands plane after pilot faints

Are we capable of more than we think? Could you land a plane if you really had to? Could you remove an appendix? The science of self-affirmation says the answer is clearly yes. The passenger stared into the cockpit in horror. The pilot had collapsed.  If he did nothing, the plane would crash into the Florida sea, killing everyone on board. So the passenger decided to fly the plane himself. There was just one problem: he had never flown a plane before.  He radioed air traffic control. Soon, with help from the control room, the plane was descending onto the tarmac.  The passenger’s ordeal – and astonishing story of survival – made headlines around the world this week.  But incredibly, he is not the first passenger to successfully land a plane. In 2012, an 80-year-old woman gained control of a light aircraft after her husband, the pilot, collapsed.  In fact, history is filled with tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  In 1961, a Russian surgeon removed his own appendix after falling ill in the Antarctic. “It’s almost impossible… but I can’t just fold my arms and give up,” Leonid Rogozov wrote in his diary. Against all the odds, he survived and returned as a hero. So how do people achieve such incredible feats?  Many scientists believe the answer is simple: self-affirmation. Reminding yourself of your own capabilities can act as a “tool for self-defence” in stressful situations, says psychologist David Creswell.  Of course, not everyone has the same response to stress. When American man Tom Boyle Jr witnessed a car trap a cyclist, he ran over and lifted the car away. He was “in effect, superhuman”, writes one journalist. But as an experienced weightlifter, Boyle was already far stronger than the average person. Likewise, Rogozov would likely have died if not for his surgical knowledge.   Yet one thing is clear: neither would have achieved such incredible things if not for their own belief in themselves.  Are we capable of more than we think? Fight or flight  Yes: The passenger’s extraordinary landing proves it: we are capable of almost anything we set our minds to. And the first step to any successful task is believing in your own abilities. No: Harrison was extremely lucky. We often hear about the unlikely heroes, but never those who tried and did not succeed. Most people know the limits of their own capabilities. Or... Most humans are naturally cautious. The passenger’s act of extreme courage saved his life – but in most situations, it is our caution that prevents us from taking wild risks and keeps us safe. KeywordsDied - Self-belief does not always make surgeons successful. In the 19th Century, surgeon Robert Liston performed an amputation with a 300% mortality rate. The patient, his assistant and an onlooker all died.

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