T.J. HOOKER PHOTO/THE POST-STAR
Seneca College flight instructor Michael Denning safely landed the plane he was piloting on a stretch of highway in eastern New York state on Sept. 3, 2008.
Pilot with two students lands safely after plane loses power over U.S.
Sep 05, 2008 04:30 AM
A Seneca College flight instructor with two students on board a single-engine plane over New York's Adirondack Mountains landed safely on a highway after the type of emergency "some people don't walk away from," he said last night.
Michael Denning, 24, said he glided the plane above two transport trucks 15 metres above the road after the engine died. He landed in the two northbound lanes of Interstate 87 with no injuries and no damage to the plane.
"When (the truck drivers) saw us they stopped, which helped us out because it blocked traffic," Denning said after getting off a bus in Montreal for a commercial flight home to Toronto.
"Luckily it happened when it did," said Ray Thatcher, emergency services director for Essex County. "This is a high tourist area ... but the main tourist season is behind us now and the fall foliage season isn't here yet."
"He did an outstanding job," said New York State Police Capt. Michael Girard. "It's a very mountainous region. It's not like you can find an open field."
"He set it down perfectly – dead centre," said Ryan Bessey, captain of the volunteer fire department from the nearby hamlet of North Hudson, N.Y., 150 kilometres north of Albany.
The students, both in their third year of a four-year program, are not being identified "to protect their privacy," said Dominic Totino, head of Seneca's School of Aviation and Flight Technology.
Denning was leading a training exercise at about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, with one student at the controls of a single-engine Beechcraft F-33 Bonanza, seating four, owned by the college.
The idea was to fly from Buttonville airport to Burlington, Vt., on a flight that involved crossing into U.S. airspace, customs clearance and flying over hilly terrain.
They heard a clicking noise from the engine – "not something I've ever heard before," said Denning, a recent course graduate who began instructing last year.
The gauges showed nothing wrong. A minute later, a loud bang and loss of power prompted Denning to seize duplicate controls.
Below he saw mountains, trees and water. Then he saw the highway. At 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) the motor failed completely and the propeller stopped. He radioed a mayday call and touched down.
"It was a surreal feeling afterward," Denning said. "We were just standing there (outside the plane) making a few jokes."
Northbound traffic was rerouted for several hours until the plane was pushed to a crossover on the median of the divided highway, where it remained overnight.
Two U.S. Federal Aviation Administration inspectors arrived early yesterday to investigate the cause of the engine failure, an FAA spokesperson said.
Seneca's maintenance workers are all professionals, not students, Denning said.
"We've had these planes since 1992 and never had any engine issues with them," said department head Totino.
"They followed the way they were taught to land for emergency procedures," he said.
Here are a few photos posted on AvCanada by one of the students involved