|Close Calls: Well, We Made It|
|Written by Anthony Nalli|
|Thursday, 17 February 2011 11:28|
It was 1985 when our passenger was asked by his close friend and new pilot to accompany him on a leisure flight. Our pilot was a Palo Alto, Calif., area renter of Cherokee 150s and 180s. The two flew around the San Francisco Bay area, having lunch at a spot in the central valley before returning home. Both enjoyed the short flight so much that they immediately planned a weekend trip with their wives.
The big weekend arrived, and our pilot, passenger, and their better halves departed for a dirt strip near Lodoga, Calif., where there was a concession owned by a friend of the group. Our pilot determined that the best way to land at this dirt strip was to fly over the nearby foothills and then make a diving approach to the strip, being careful to avoid a huge oak tree at the near end of the runway.
Getting into position, our pilot decided to “buzz the lake” just to the west of the foothills before going in to land. They descended sharply onto the strip, missing the tree, but landing hard enough to bounce back up and off the runway 60 or 80 feet laterally into a field. They bounced in the field once or twice more before our pilot gave the aircraft full power, aborting the failed landing attempt. After regaining his composure, our pilot opted to try coming in from the other direction, choosing a tailwind over the steep approach and the oak tree.
Our pilot executed what seemed like a less-complex approach, and, while coming in faster than usual, all seemed to be taking place without event. That was, of course, until their ground roll reached the mid-point of the strip, where, to their surprise, they discovered a four-foot dip that crossed the runway.
The dip essentially acted as a ramp that catapulted the fast-rolling Cherokee 20 feet into the air. Since the aircraft was not equipped with footbrakes, our pilot was frantically grabbing for the handbrake, trying to bring the aircraft to a quick stop when the wheels returned to the ground.
Struggling with what seemed to be an ineffective handbrake, our pilot was cursing as he realized the reason the brake lever wasn’t stopping the plane. It wasn’t a handbrake; it was the microphone!
Finally, throwing the mic aside and taking hold of the actual handbrake lever, our pilot pulled with all his might as the aircraft reached the end of the runway, fishtailing around that seemingly ever-present giant oak tree, missing it by not so much.
All aboard were sitting in silent shock, pondering their harrowing experience, as the massive dust cloud around them slowly settled. Our passenger, in the right seat during the flight, broke the silence by looking over to our pilot, saying in a strangely casual tone, “Well, we made it!”
The experience was also shared by those on the ground. Two campers had pitched a tent by the oak tree and scattered for their lives as the out-of-control plane was heading towards them. As the group walked into a nearby restaurant, their landing was the dominant subject of conversation. “Were you guys in that plane?” asked one man. “We thought for sure you were going to kill yourself!”
There was obviously much to have been learned from this flight. Our pilot immediately took to avoiding remote, challenging airports without first becoming more familiar with them. As lessons go, that may certainly be a start!
From the August 2010 issue of Pipers