Sunday, March 31, 2013

Cessna 172N Skyhawk, N37WT: Pilot recalls harrowing landing in Jamestown, North Dakota

Flying in his 1978 Cessna 172 4-seater airplane, Keith Melius was about 5,000 feet above sea level when the engine started to sputter.

 Once Melius, of Faulkton, realized he could not get the engine running properly, the only option left was to figure out where he could land the plane and cause the least possible damage, he said.

 "I just looked down and started looking for a good spot to land," he said.

  Melius, 46, managed to walk away unscathed after he made an emergency landing in a snow-covered field Tuesday afternoon about 17 miles south of Jamestown, his planned destination.

 The plane was damaged, but not irreparably, Melius said.

 Melius, who earned his pilot license in 2005, said he managed to stay calm when his engine started malfunctioning because he had done many emergency landing drills with his flight instructor.

 Although being 5,000 feet above sea level sounds scary, it's actually better when engine problems happen at high altitudes because it gives the pilot more time to find a spot to land, he said.

 "When you're flying low, you have much less time to plan where you land," Melius said.

 A good emergency landing spot is a spacious field with plenty of room, but not too much snow on the ground, he said.

 Once the engine started to sputter, he started looking for nearby fields. The first field he saw was a cornfield, which he could tell was unsuitable.

 "I could see the tips of the stalks barely sticking out of the snow, which told me the snow was too deep to land safely," Melius said.

 When he spotted bean sprouts in a field, he could tell the snow wasn't that deep, so he carefully guided the plane down and braced for impact.

 Melius, who is a farmer, said some people in town have asked him about the emergency landing. He always replies in the same way — he's happy he wasn't hurt and he plans on flying again once his plane is repaired.


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