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TV review: Mayday shows us every air passenger's nightmare

The word 'hero' is used too often, usually to describe vacant footballers or sulky pop stars, but Mayday told the story of a man who truly deserved the title.

Mayday hero, John Wildey
Mayday hero, John Wildey

John Wildey is a calm, polite and cheerful 77-year old. He and his pilot friend had visited Butlins and decided to fly there in a light aircraft rather than take the car.

They had a perfect day for it and were approaching home when the pilot said he felt sick. The two old friends joked about the mess he'd make in the cockpit and the pilot laughed 'don't worry, I'll open the door,' but he then deteriorated fast and was soon hyper-ventilating. He told John to take the controls then fainted in his seat.

John took over and made contact with Air Traffic Control to say his pilot was unconscious - then he added the niggling little fact that he had never flown a plane before.

The ground staff told him to keep the plane steady and just circle till they could make arrangements. A flying instructor was ordered in to try and guide John down and a Search and Rescue helicopter was scrambled to fly alongside him although Becca, the pilot, told the camera that their real mission was simply to scrape John and his plane off the runway following the inevitable crash.

John stayed calm. The ground staff kept his spirits up and he made little jokes to them about how he was gagging for a drink. Then his voice crackled over the radio and said simply 'the pilot is dead.'

Up there alone in the sky, his friend dead at his shoulder, John was guided into his approach and attempted a landing once, twice, three times. Each one was aborted as he was coming in too high or too fast or too low and he was sent back up to circle and try again - this stunned man who had never flown a plane before.

Each attempt at landing failed, darkness was descending and he couldn't reach across the dead body to flick the cockpit lights on, so was literally 'flying blind.'

There was incredible tension watching this programme even though we know John makes it down safely as he is sitting there in his blazer, every inch a gentleman, calm and humorous and brave, telling us his story, but we are nonetheless desperate to know how he did it and to see how everyone worked together to bring the shaky plane down safely.

This spectacular story shows that even a horrendous and impossible situation can be solved with a cool head and expert guidance, so it sits strangely beside the recent media frenzy regarding the lost MH370 flight. These stories have almost all been sensational, so much so that it wasn't surprising to see an American news channel having a genuine debate about whether the plane had flown into a black hole.

It seemed that hijacking, fire or pilot suicide weren't enough to keep us interested. We had to stumble into the wilderness and talk of black holes, and if that wasn't crazy enough, a glance at the comments on any online news article would throw up theories about aliens, time rips, a new Bermuda triangle and even Stephen King's Langoliers. There were countless wacky theories being spouted by Wikipedia-scrolling 'experts'.

I'll admit I've taken a grim pleasure in reading these sensational reports and some of the mad comments. It appeals to the child in me who just loves a scary story. It also fulfils a need to see authority get a bloody nose as we see the slick politicians left white-faced and stuttering.

But these Twilight Zone theories are only intriguing for a while and then we step back, gladly, into the reassuring world of reality, a world inhabited by decent, calm and sensible folk like John Wildey, a man who is surely the antidote to the hysteria and intrigue of the past few weeks?

Even so, whilst saluting him for his courage and common sense, we do need our conspiracy theories and wonderings and our wild what-ifs and these should be relished - even if they do sometimes stray into bad taste. We're human, after all, and our imaginations need to stretch and roam. As long as we're always able to come back to reality and common sense then where's the harm? Let us have our Bermuda-dwelling aliens as long as we have them with a hefty pinch of salt.

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