RAF guided blind pilot to safety
Friday 07 November 2008
A pilot who lost his sight flying a light aircraft back from a family holiday and had to be guided to safety by an RAF jet was seriously ill in hospital.
Solo pilot Jim O'Neill was taking the two-seat Cessna back from Scotland to Essex, when he was suddenly blinded over North Yorkshire.
It is reported that Mr O'Neill had a stroke mid-flight and blood at the back of his head put pressure on his optic nerves, immediately blinding him.
Mr O'Neill put in a mayday alert and attempted to land his plane at Full Sutton Airfield near York, but was unable to complete the manoeuvre even with the help of air traffic controllers.
A RAF team from nearby Linton-on-Ouse was scrambled and a Tucano T1 jet took off to find the aircraft and guided the stricken pilot to the ground.
Mr O'Neill, 65, with 18 years' flying experience, was taken to York Hospital before being transferred to Queen's Hospital in Romford, Essex. He is thought to be seriously ill in a brain unit at the hospital.
Mr O'Neill told the Daily Mirror from his hospital bed: "I should not be alive. I owe my life - and those of dozens of people I could have crash landed on - to the RAF. It was terrifying. Suddenly I couldn't see the dials in front of me".
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