Emergency Landing in Otisco, IN
Saturday 27 September, 2008
Incident Newspaper picture The Brady song goes, “This is a story, of a lovely lady….”, and so this is, one who delivered us from great violence in a difficult environment. Many of you know that I’ve been collecting accident data on my website for some time, and some have wondered at the wisdom, or at least gentility of such an activity, and fairly too. I’ve tried to keep it factual, and helpful to the community. And, I’ve always hoped that if we had an incident I’d have the courage to share our story in an honest and unvarnished way. I think I owe it to my fellow builders, not just because it affects them directly (which it does, through insurance rates, etc.), but so they may learn something, anything. I’m going to share our story, and I will try very hard not to fall victim to the writer’s disease of exaggerating both the danger and the heroism of those involved.
|The Finkelsteins||Roger Cummins, Joel Finkelstein, and yours truly|
And yet, it could have had a much less happy ending, and not just for us, there were many innocent folks whose lives where hazarded so that we might live. I’m sensible of that fact, and thank God that none where injured. I also want to say thanks up front to a host of folks that have treated us with kindness and respect through this process, and have made the after-effects of such an event bearable, and at times even pleasant. So, I’d like to thank Sgt. Aaron Gilkey Sr. with the Clark County Sheriff’s office, who was efficient and professional, as well as human and entertaining. Next, the FAA team (of Randy Shafer, James Martin, and Paul Tursi) who were very pleasant and professional while doing a job that could easily be made to feel like the Inquisition. Thanks to Stan Faske from the Cincinnati FSDO for answering my questions, and helping us clear up some paperwork questions. Thanks to Roger Cummins, a jack of all trades, for being ready and willing to fetch my wounded bird onto his truck on a moments notice far from home. Thanks to the Brainards, our building buddies and partners for being there; this is the worst kind of news to get – sorry that Victor Fox will be unavailable for some time. Thanks to Scott Baker and John Abrahms of Velocity for teaching Elizabeth how to fly the Velocity. Thanks to Dave Bertram, our friend and mentor for teaching her how to fly Victor Fox. Thanks to my good buddy Andy Millin just for being Andy and caring so much, and offering a to get us on the road to repair, and to the broader Velocity community for understanding and the enormous outpouring of concern, thanks for well-being, and hope for quick recovery. Finally, thanks to the Finkelstein family, who during the weekend cared for us almost as if we were their children. They took us in, fed us, offered their tools and labor, and a welcoming environment. A lot of people would be less-than-pleased to have a airplane parked in their driveway, and the attendant media circus. You guys are great, and gracious hosts.
So, enough of the preliminarys, what happened? Some of you know that we’d been planning on attending the CSA Canard Fly-in at Rough River State Park. Since we couldn’t fly to Oshkosh this year, this was going to be our coming out party, and first “real” trip in Victor Fox. Since it would be the first trip outside of a 70 mile radius of our home base, and the first time out of state, and shortly after a fresh condition inspection, we tried to be very diligent in preparing for the trip. We’d planned on launching on Friday, but wind gusts at our airport were over 20 kts, and a cross-wind to boot, so we elected to play it safe and wait for the anticipated better weather on Saturday. Beth flew several times that week, and practiced “short” field landings at Clermont County Saturday morning (Rough River is a fair bit shorter than Lebanon, but the same as Clermont, so this seemed like a wise plan). This practice session, and the trip down and back, was a longer total flight than the expected trip time to Rough River, which also seemed like just the ticket. Thus, when she returned we felt confident that everything was in order for the flight down.
Coincidentally, those that follow the blog know that I’ve been working to install a tracking device in Victor Fox, an APRS unit. The flights on Saturday were to be the first with this equipment activated, which is a quite an irony. The transmitter worked a treat, providing great detail of her course to Clermont and back, as well as the doomed trip to Rough River. Check out some screen shots.
|Pattern work at I68||Outbound to I69|
|At Clermont||Return to I68|
|Outbound around Cincy||Trip to Otisco|
|Near view of site – Note Highway 3 ahead of track, this is where we land, and the small town of Otisco beyond, where we come to a stop|
Weather on Saturday was calm, but with low ceilings, and the bulk of the flight was at 2,500′ MSL under the overcast. There was a fair amount of traffic darting about under this layer, and so as we clipped along at 150-160 kts, an easy cruise to keep the engine temps and fuel burn down, I began to let myself think that this was quite a way to travel. We’d decided to avoid Cincinnati’s airspace because they can be difficult to work with, and just never elected to talk to Flight Service, nor were we on a flight plan, though we did get a full briefing before departure. We were nearly halfway through the trip, and I had just been thinking how desolate Indiana is in comparison to Ohio, with few cities and fewer airports. And then it happened. There was a dull pop sound from up in the nose, a puff of haze or smoke flowed through the cockpit, and the distinct odor of oil. That’s not good is about all that you have time to think before the EFIS reports “0 psi Oil Pressure” in bright red letters. Start the clock.
I’d like to say something clever here, but I stared stupidly at the display for what seemed to be a week and thought “this cannot be happening… that simply isn’t accurate”. In the rational part of your mind of course you know it is in fact true, but your irrational mind want’s “Clippy” the Microsoft help agent to come out on the screen and say, “sorry, my bad, the oil pressure is just fine”. Once I’d processed the reality of the data, I told Elizabeth that we had to get down, and to pick a place. She’d already started to move towards the highway, and had come to the same conclusion, but wouldn’t say much the remainder of the flight. However the reassurance that we were making the right choices, and that it was going well seemed to have helped calm her nerves and give her confidence that this was the right course of action. Interestingly, after getting home, I noticed that my shirt was splattered with oil, apparently from that initial cloud of spray.
The rest of the flight took, in my estimation, 2 minutes or less. Elizabeth began a fast descent to the road to keep from running out of the long straight section. She asked me to tune the radio to 121.5 MHz so we could declare an emergency. I fiddled with the radio, and couldn’t tell that the numbers were even changing. It might as well have been a turnip, as I had no concept as to how one would tune a radio at that moment. This is a trivial task, mind you, but I was incapable of doing it. Beth briefly tried to tune it herself, but realized she had to fly the plane, I told her we’d figure it out once we were on the ground.
We arrived above the highway a bit fast, and banking slightly right to roll out on it’s heading. As we did, we came very close to the row of trees you’ll see in pictures below. I could tell that the proximity was bothering Elizabeth and said something like “you’re doing fine, just stick with it”. As we lined up ‘on final’, I began to wonder if we were making a mistake, if the situation was really as bad as I imagined. As it turns out, oil was already running under the canard bulkhead and the rudder pedals on Beth’s side, but I did not know this at the time. Hindsight proved it was every bit as bad as my worst fear, and in the end after talking with the FAA, I think the most important thing in an emergency is to establish a plan and commit to executing it the best you can. As we settled in, I also thought about Uli’s accident, and this must be how that sort of thing feels, though I never really felt in danger. Somehow I just felt that we were under control, and that it would work out.
As we got closer, the road was clearly less hospitable than we’d thought from altitude. It was small, with the large trees on one side, and there were power lines. Not to mention the traffic, which though light, was present. There was one truck ahead of us, and a couple of sets of power lines crossing the roadway. Beth seemed to hold the descent, and we had speed, but I felt the need to mention that the engine was still running, and that she could still use the power. She did, and we landed past the truck, passing over one set of wires, and getting under the next set. We set down fast, but in the most open piece of road. We’d been running all of the ship’s lighting the whole flight due to the overcast, and I suddenly was very glad as I worried that the oncoming traffic would not stop. We’d seen them ahead, but as we passed down into a dip, we couldn’t see if they’d recognized the danger, and I thought we were quite likely to cream someone as we crested the hill.
Happily, they did see us, and moved to the grass, but we still had to scootch to the copilot side to keep the wing from hitting them, and in so doing felled a 6′ tall reflector post. This upset Elizabeth quite a bit, and she asked what that was. I didn’t even look, and told her that it didn’t matter, we’re fine. The plane shuddered, but otherwise shook it off as if it hadn’t even been there, not changing our path at all. As we slowed, we saw ahead a driveway that was clearly wide enough for the wheel track, and without obstructions to hit the wings. The engine was still purring, so we maneuvered off of the roadway. As Elizabeth began the shutdown procedures, I reminded her to shut the fuel off, get the electric off, and get out, and I darted out to check for fire. Luckily there was none. Beth was cool as a cucumber until her feet hit the grass, and then she struggled to keep her feet. We were safe, and now she could take a moment to let the adrenaline take it’s course. Joel Finkelstein came out his front door to greet us. I have no idea what he said. I asked where we were. He said Otisco, and I asked if that was in Kentucky. It’s not.
A couple of truisms. If an airplane lands on a highway, someone will call 911. That doesn’t mean help is arriving anytime soon, and it took the police about 10-15 minutes to arrive, and the fire department longer. Also, if the police show up to a downed aircraft, they will invariably call the FAA. Joel helped us push the plane off the driveway, because I didn’t want to be in the way. That was silly, as the police just taped off the whole yard anyway. It took them some time to find the right form for “airplane lands on highway”, but they did. We talked to the police for a long time, but the firemen were happy to see the fuel shutoff pulled, and no fire. They weren’t even concerned about the oil, which was pouring out of the airplane by the quart, and left shortly after arriving. It was probably an hour before we could call anyone. Beth called her dad, and asked him to pick us up. “Yea, we’re in Otisco, Indiana”… “Where’s that?”… “We don’t know, please look it up…” I called my brother. More conversations with the police. I called Roger to see about getting the plane hauled back home. The rest of that day was a blur. The Finkelstein’s offered to order pizza for everybody. How wonderful! I offered to pay, because the media was now hovering, hounding the neighbors, everybody was using their bathroom, they’d offered to put us up for the night, they were really more kind than anyone has the right to expect.
The FAA wouldn’t let us move the plane until they inspected it, and that wouldn’t happen until Sunday, but they wanted the airplane’s log. That’s in Cincinnati. Beth’s dad showed up about 8 pm for the 3 hour drive home, in the dark. We didn’t get to bed until midnight, and had to be up at 4 to get back to meet the FAA, with the logs, and tools to break the airplane apart (sort of, Joel offered all of his tools, but I felt I should come prepared).
Sunday 28 September, 2008
Sunday morning came too quickly, but I did sleep well for the few hours we had. We were out of the house by 5:00, ran to the airport to get the aircraft log and every tool that I thought I would maybe need to take the wings off of the airplane, and we were on the road by 5:30.
We arrived back in Otisco by 8:30, just behind the 3 person FAA response team. The Finkelstein’s had made coffee and cake for everyone. Interestingly, the FAA stressed their appreciation for being respectful of the Finkelstein’s, and reinforced that we represent all of the GA community in a situation like this. They collected some base data, and looked our paperwork over, and asked Elizabeth to sit down and write her recollections. The representative from maintenance stayed with me and looked the plane over in detail. After their initial review, they indicated there would be no issue with releasing the aircraft to us that morning, and that they’d already downgraded the report from accident to incident.
Next we drove to the Clark County airport to make copies of everything the FAA needed, and I was asked to write up my recollections as well. There was a lot of discussion around our Operating Limitations. Apparently some FSDO’s issue these as a 2-part set, one for Phase I, and a separate set for Phase II. My local FSDO does not do this, and there was some confusion generated by this. I’d like thank Stan Faske from the Cincinnati FSDO. Stan’s a great guy, and is always easy to work with, and was prompt in getting back to me, and immediately contacted the investigative team to clear up any misunderstanding. This put my mind to rest greatly, and his response was above and beyond, and we’re really grateful.
I’d hoped to have the FAA taken care of by 10, and have the plane nearly ready to travel by around noon when Roger was set to show up and load the plane onto his trailer. As it turns out, we were with the FAA to nearly noon. Roger showed up right on time, and jumped in to help us take everything apart, as did Joel and David Finkelstein. It took much longer than I expected. First, the cowlings had to be removed to grant access to the main wing bolts, then the aileron and rudder cables had to be disconnected, as well as the radio and wingtip lighting connections. Then all of the electronics in the nose had to be disconnected, and the oil soaked up, and the elevator rod. Next, the canard bolts didn’t want to come out because the nuts had been over tightened and cupped the washers. Then all of 40 gallons of fuel had to be siphoned out. At least the weather was great, sunny and not too hot, as was the cookout-style lunch the Finkelstein’s provided. The airplane was loaded before dark, but not by much. Since we couldn’t get wide load permits on Sunday, Roger dropped the trailer and we all headed home. We arrived home about 10 PM! The weekend was spent in a stressed filled, nearly sleepless toil from start to finish, but I couldn’t help from being nearly giddy. We were safe. My airplane will fly again. We met some great people along the way, and reaffirmed old friendships. Life is good.
I will flesh this out quite a bit more in the coming days and weeks. The failure was at the connection point between the hard (1/2″) aluminum tubing fitting to the 3-way valve that controls which of the two nose-mounted oil coolers gets oil flow. The nut and sleeve were still on the valve, but the tubing was blown out, flare and all. It’s not yet clear what caused this. The flare might have been inadequate, or perhaps over-flaring it weakened the material enough to let a section fracture and the remaining portion was then small enough to be forced out. Or, there could be some manufacturing defect in the sleeve that could allow a proper flare to pass through, either a slightly improper diameter or out of round condition. If I had to guess today, Occam’s razor would point to not enough flare when I constructed the tube. It’s unclear why we able to accumulate so many hours before it failed.
This was the first operational day for our APRS installation. I have to say that I find this technology just wonderful and fascinating. It is, also, ironic that a system that I installed to put folk’s minds at ease (mine with Beth flies alone, or her Dad’s when we go places) went live the day of our incident. Almost as ironic as crashing on the lawn of the only Jewish couple in Otisco on the Sabbath before Rosh Hannah, but that’s another story. The point I wanted to make here, is that the APRS installation was straight-forward, and it provides a wonderful history of the flight – which is of particular interest in this case. I highly recommend it. I’m going to implement additional functionality on my website, so if you have questions just ask me.
Posted By: Brett FerrellTuesday September 30th, 2008 at 8:12 PM