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Doctor who saved pilot's life after Florida plane emergency shares 'remarkable' survival story

Passenger landed Cessna 208 at Palm Beach International Airport on May 10
A single-engine Cessna 208 following an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport on May 10, 2022.jpg
Posted at 10:01 PM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 22:01:43-04

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — A Palm Beach County doctor shared his story Thursday after saving the life of a pilot who suffered a medical emergency and became unconscious on a small private plane that made an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport last week.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Nishant Patel held a news conference at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center to discuss the 64-year-old pilot's condition and recovery.

"The story is a miracle after a miracle," Patel said.

A single-engine Cessna 208 following an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport on May 10, 2022 (1).jpg
A single-engine Cessna 208 following an emergency landing at Palm Beach International Airport on May 10, 2022.

The pilot, Ken Allen, was flying a single-engine Cessna 208 from the Bahamas to Fort Pierce, Florida on May 10 when he suffered a life-threatening aortic dissection, what Patel called a "high mortality case."

"About 50% of patients who have this diagnosis won't even make it to the hospital," Patel said. "Even with treatment, surgical treatment, the risk of passing away with the operation or within the hospital stay is quite high."

Watch news conference in the video player below:

Palm Beach County doctor who saved pilot's life shares survival story

Lakeland man Darren Harrison, 39, who had no flying experience, miraculously took control of the aircraft and landed it successfully at PBIA around 12:30 p.m.

"I knew if I didn't react, that we would die," Harrison told TODAY anchor Savannah Guthrie on Monday.

Patel said Allen was initially brought to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach with signs of a stroke including a droop on left side of his face and the loss of movement on one side of his body.

However, when it was discovered Allen needed complex cardiac care, he was transferred to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, one of the area's leading heart hospitals.

The pilot underwent emergency surgery, which lasted from the late afternoon on May 10 until roughly midnight.

Allen was released from the hospital on Monday and is "resting comfortably locally" and "doing quite well," Patel said.

Harrison said Allen complained of having a headache and feeling "fuzzy" before passing out in the cockpit.

Darren Harrison speaks to TODAY anchor Savannah Guthrie on May 16, 2022 (1).jpg
Darren Harrison speaks to TODAY anchor Savannah Guthrie on May 16, 2022.

"The moment that he was describing to his friends on the plane, hey guys, I don't feel well. I have the worst headache of my life. I'm feeling fuzzy, dizzy. That is the exact event that the tear occurred in his aorta," Patel said. "To be able to survive that acute event was really quite remarkable."

Patel said Allen will remain in South Florida for a couple weeks for observation before returning home to Polk County.