A passenger who had never flown an aircraft before has been praised for making a safe emergency landing after the pilot became ill and unable to operate the controls.

Emergency services gathered at Humberside Airport, Lincolnshire, in the UK yesterday evening after the passenger in the light aircraft had to land it with the help of two instructors from the ground.

The pilot, who has since died, had collapsed in the cockpit and his passenger John Wildey - who had never flown an aircraft before - was left to ground the Cessna 172.

Humberside Police said an investigation into what happened was under way, but it was too early to say what caused the pilot to become incapacitated.

Mr Wildey described how he landed the plane with a "right bump" and that he could not reach the brakes at first and feared he was not going to make it. 

He required several attempts before finally touching down in the dark - with no lights.

A multi-agency emergency response was declared at 6.20pm as the plane, which is understood to have taken off from an airstrip 32km away, issued a mayday call as it approached the airport.

"Humberside International Airport put into operation their emergency plan," an airport spokesman said.

"The passenger flew over the airport a couple of times and then was talked down by two flight instructors, and the emergency services were waiting for them when he landed safely."

Although the landing was described as "heavy", it was said to be normal.

Some witnesses described the plane bumping on the runway and sparks coming off the front of it.

It is thought the plane left a small airfield at Sandtoft, near Doncaster, on a flight training day.

Roy Murray, one of the flight instructors who helped the passenger land the plane, told the BBC that Mr Wildey did a "remarkable job".

He said he made quite a good landing in the circumstances, considering he had never flown a plane before and was "flying blind".

"I think without any sort of talk-down he would have just gone into the ground and that would have been the end of it", Mr Murray said.

A Humberside Police spokesman said: "The police investigation is now under way. However, it is too early to speculate as to what caused the pilot to become incapacitated."