Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Inside a pilot's mind: How to make a safe emergency landing

Kathryn's Report:

Joe Durousseau

Joe DuRousseau (left) stands near his Cessna 172 (tailwheel) plane after he was forced to make an emergency landing on westbound Interstate 80 in Sparks, Nevada, on February 22, 2010.

SPARKS, Nev. (KOLO) - Two people survived an emergency landing Tuesday afternoon, but this wasn't the first time the Reno area has seen a pilot make this kind of call. Another pilot who survived a similar force landing in 2010 reveals what he did to survive.

It was 2010 when Joe Durousseau and his three passengers walked away from an emergency landing on westbound I-80 near the Vista Boulevard exit without a single scratch.

"Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing," said Durousseau.

They were flying back from Mexico on a Flying Doctor's volunteer mission. With just a few miles into the homestretch, the carburetor froze, the engine quit and at that point, this Cessna 172 was up against gravity.

"Airplanes don't just plummet out of the sky if they engine quits running. As long as the pilot stays calm and continues to fly the aircraft, the next choice is pick a spot and land the plane," said Durousseau.

He was approaching Sparks when he eyed a nearby farm, but thought he would have better luck landing in the middle of traffic on I-80.

"Planes will descend at about 500 feet per minute descent rate, so if you're 4,000 feet up, you've got maybe 8 minutes."

He had less than four minutes to make a safe landing and not get hit by a car. A plane that size can descend at 40 to 50 miles per hour.

"All pilots are trained for those inevitabilities. Your instructor will pull a throttle back and say 'your engine just quit, what are you going to do?'"

With just his training to rely on, he stuck the landing with just a bent tail, broken wheel and a clipped wing.

"A long as you maintain control of the airplane, most small aircraft land at a small enough speed, if you don't hit a building but land in a field, those are usually survivable landings."

He says the key is in the training. You learn to stay calm and be in control. He says sooner or later, pilots will face an incident and if they remember their training, they'll most likely be okay.

"Flying is just as dangerous as driving on the freeway. It gets notoriety because it's so rare."

Story and video: 

NTSB Identification: WPR10CA144
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Monday, February 22, 2010 in Sparks, NV
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/28/2010
Aircraft: CESSNA 172, registration: N7499A
Injuries: 4 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

According to the pilot, he was descending into the landing airport vicinity with the fuel selector on the right tank. The engine then lost power and he switched the fuel selector to the left tank, and then to the "both" position. The propeller continued to windmill and the pilot force-landed the airplane on an interstate. During the landing, the airplane touched down hard and the tailwheel separated from its mounting point and damaged the rudder. The pilot indicated that usually when the airplane is in a descent he positions the fuel selector on the "both" setting. He indicated that in a descent it is important that the selector is positioned to the both position to ensure adequate fuel flow. Additionally, the pilot reported that he may have encountered carburetor icing conditions and he did not immediately apply carburetor heat. According to the Federal Aviation Administration’s carburetor icing chart, icing conditions existed at glide and cruise power. Seven gallons of fuel were found in the airplane's fuel tanks. Following the accident, the engine was started and test run on the airframe using the remaining fuel in the airplane and no anomalies were noted.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
A total loss of engine power due to fuel starvation as a result of the pilot's failure to select the correct fuel selector position.

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