|Close Calls: Fear and Regrets|
|Written by Anthony Nalli|
Our pilot had about seven months and 120 hours of experience and was working on his commercial ticket with dreams of becoming a regional pilot and flight instructor in June of 1974 when he decided to fly to visit relatives in Laurel, Del. He thought he might make it a family vacation by bringing along his brother and two sisters.
They left on that hot and humid day in a Cherokee 180 from Waterford, Conn., for the three-hour trip to Delaware. Having learned to fly in the wide-open spaces of Colorado, our pilot was a bit nervous flying down Long Island and over New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
It was very hazy, and our pilot couldn't see the ground very well from above the haze. He was navigating from VOR to VOR with the sectional in his lap and was shocked when he suddenly saw an airliner pop out of the haze from Kennedy while his siblings “ooh'd and aah'd.”
As they flew down the New Jersey coast, and the haze began to thin out, they must have found themselves either in or near a military operations area, because, suddenly, an F-106 delta-wing jet flew behind them less than 500 feet, and it was going very fast. “We saw him approaching and could see the pilot and plane ID. In retrospect, I think he could have been trying to teach me a lesson. All he did was scare me greatly,” admits our pilot.
As they continued to Laurel, it was now just before dusk when our pilot called the tower at nearby Salisbury-Ocean City Wicomico Regional Airport, because he couldn't find the Laurel Airport. “Salisbury invited me to land there,” our pilot recalls. “I think they must have sensed the uncertainty in my voice.”
Just as he was deciding what to do, our pilot looked down and noticed a strip with a centerline. Since it seemed to be in the right place on the sectional, he immediately advised the tower that he now had the Laurel Airport in sight and would be landing there.
Our pilot entered the pattern and prepared to land. With his landing light on, he was just about to flare when a green line instantly came into view. Just as fast, a large spark occurred as his propeller cut through what turned out to be an electrical wire.
The wire wrapped around the left main gear and caused the plane to dramatically yaw before it finally pulled free. “The only thing that went right was that I still made a good landing,” says our pilot.
After getting out of the plane and being met by an on-looking tractor driver staring open-mouthed, our pilot surveyed the damage to the plane. It, thankfully, appeared minimal, but the nick in the prop about one inch from the tip gave him pause.
“I realized that if my altitude varied by that one inch up or down, the wire might have caught the tail or the nose wheel, and the outcome could have been much, much worse,” our pilot reflects. “I was so uneasy and wanted to get on the ground so badly that I failed to realize that the sectional symbol for Laurel was a round circle designating a grass strip. I had, in fact, landed on a drag strip parallel to the grass strip! The wire I cut was the power wire to the light tree that starts the race.”
He continues, “I've wished since then that I took Salisbury's invitation to land there.” Our pilot arranged for an instructor to come down from Connecticut to fly the plane back with him while his sisters and brother took the train.
Our pilot flew only a few more hours after the nerve-wracking flight; the experience continued to gnaw at his confidence to the point that, within a few months, he stopped flying altogether. It took 34 years before he could finally come to grips with what happened, learn from it rather than be afraid of it, and get back in the left seat again.
After some long overdue help and inspiration by his instructor, our pilot concludes, “I feel that I'm a safer pilot now because of that flight, but I often think with regret what I must have missed in aviation with all those years lost.”
Never stop learning; never give up!
From the November 2010 issue of Pipers