Engine Out!

    We practice for it.  We try to be prepared.  But there is nothing like having the engine of a single-engine aircraft quit running to bring your focus to the here and now in the most amazing way.  This happened to two pilots based at Dallas Bay in April, 2008, and the stories of Chad Garrison (and his family) and Richard Whittemore (and David Harris) include really good lessons for all of us.

    April 8 was a beautiful day for flight training.  CFI Richard Whittemore and student pilot David Harris were practicing maneuvers over the sparsely populated area north of Sequoyah Nuclear Power Plant and south of the Hiwassee River.  They had done a few power-off stalls at about 3000 MSL (2000-2300 AGL) when the engine didn’t respond to the advancing throttle.  Richard wrote, “David advanced the power and the engine only gave about 1400 rpm. It was sputtering and going on so I initially thought carb ice. David noticed something was not right and we made a positive exchange of controls. I checked the carb heat but that did nothing but reduce my power.”

    They trimmed for best glide speed, went through the checklists, determined that the available power would not sustain level flight, and picked out a large field to land in.  Richard continues:

    While doing all of this I called Bill (Bill Rodgers, one of the operators of our flight school) on the unicom and filled him in.  After I was 100% sure the engine was lame and it was not going to come back to life I called Chattanooga (approach control) and informed them of the situation. When they say, "Souls on Board?", it really makes you think about the possibilities.

    “We made a successful landing, once I knew we were going to be OK - I focused on making sure the aircraft did not sustain any damage.”

    The field David and Richard landed in was smooth enough to not damage the aircraft, but it was too small to fly the plane out.  It was trucked out after the wings were removed, and restored to normal flying in a couple of days. 

    The apparent reason for the loss of power was a piece of insulating baffle material, part of the carburetor heat system, that broke loose and lodged in the intake of the carburetor, blocking the air.  After the landing and shutdown of the engine, it was found lying loose in the bottom of the carburetor heat box.  Mechanic Kevin Sewell replaced all of the flexible baffling in the heat control before returning the aircraft to service. 

     Richard emphasized three things: 1) both pilots stayed calm and worked together to solve the problem.  2) they used the checklists and did every item.  3) Once committed to landing out, they focused on landing in the safest manner possible.  There was a moment in the final approach when Richard opened the throttle a little and the engine seemed to respond well - but he stayed committed and landed with an undamaged airplane.  Trying a go-around at that point easily could have resulted in a no-power situation and a “landing” into a bunch of trees.  

    Chad’s story is a bit more frightening, but the result was no injury to any person, which fits the old saw that says, “Any landing you walk away from is a good one.”

    Chad Garrison is a private pilot who had recently bought a Piper Arrow from a source in Ohio.  The airplane had a “zero time” engine when he bought it.  The Arrow was equipped with normal IFR instrumentation and a GPS.  On April 24, he and his wife and their young son and daughter were flying from Dallas Bay to Lakeland, Florida, for a weekend with the childrens’ grandmother.  Chad likes to fly higher rather than lower on long trips, and that was a good plan on this day.  Cruising at 7500 feet in VFR, using Flight Following, and talking with Jacksonville Center, Chad requested a higher altitude for his cruise because they were over the Okeefenokee Swamp, and there are no airports for many miles.  The controller agreed, and Chad began a climb toward 9500 MSL. 

    At about 9000 feet, the engine went “BANG” and lost power, while vibrating badly.  Chad trimmed the airplane for best glide and engaged the over-ride preventing the gear from automatically deploying (a unique Arrow feature).  ATC offered vectors to a paved field 20 miles away, which he declined, and to a grass strip 10 miles away, which he accepted.  The goal became Hilliard, FL (01J).  The prop came to a stop during all this, as the engine was locked up.

    As they descended, Chad says he realized that Hilliard was too far to glide, the road below was very narrow and had lots of power line obstructions, and they were over swamp and forest, so he picked a yard large enough to plop into and landed, gear up.  Chad says, “I kept my hands on the yoke all the way to the ground.  I never stopped flying the plane until the tail struck a tree and broke off the airplane.  We hit a little bit sideways, but the fuselage stayed intact, and stopped without hitting anything else.  We slid about 75 yards with the wings still intact.  I shut down the electricals and we exited the airplane through the door normally.”

    Chad says that his children were playing in the yard when other people started arriving.  The first person on the scene was a road worker who was involved in re-paving the road Chad had decided not to land on.  A Nassau County deputy was next to arrive, several minutes later, who seemed amazed to find the wrecked airplane, but no casualties.  The conversation was something like this:

    “Who was on that airplane?”

    “We were.”

    “You’ve got be kidding.  That thing is wrecked.”

    “We know that.  Can you give us a ride?”

    News reporters also arrived shortly thereafter with film crews.

    The airplane was moved to Herlong Field near Jacksonville for investigation.  The “bang” was one of the cylinders coming loose from the engine.  Apparently, the person doing the overhaul of the engine failed to properly tighten the cylinder hold-down bolts, and one of them broke, leading to other failures and the cylinder coming off the crankcase.  (A broken stud and a nut of the type that hold the cylinders on that Lycoming engine were found on the runup area at our airport after Chad’s wild ride.)

    The controllers at Jacksonville Center stayed with Chad throughout this emergency.  He describes their help as “great”, and that their calm demeanor helped his calm demeanor. 

    Chad’s recommendations after this adventure include:

  1. 1.Fly high.  Having more time to make critical decisions while dealing with an emergency takes some of the stress off the pilot.

  2. 2.Stay Calm.  Freaking out has never yet solved a problem. 

  3. 3.Pray.  His wife calmly asked the blessings to shower upon them all the way down.  Chad feels blessed, they all felt blessed, and he rejoices that he can share this story with other people.  He flew, she prayed.  Good teamwork.

  4. 4.Don’t think that just because an engine is “low time” that you are immune from having an engine emergency.  Think about risk management items before, during, and after every flight.


    In conclusion, I am pleased that six people are still with us and flying, and delighted to pass along their stories, so that someone else (it could be you or me) can benefit from their experiences.

Engine Out!